There is a study by Boeing which reveals the aviation industry needs about 637,000 pilots in another two decades whereas at present there are altogether only 200,000 pilots have been trained since the industry was commercialized. One could expect severe shortage of pilots at the rate the airlines are growing and the need for air travel increases.
Once pilotless flights were considered as an option. But that option seems to be detrimental for the industry as it reduces the confidence of passengers. Particularly after a Germanwings pilot flew an A320 plane into the French Alps in March 2015, killing all 150 people on board, many airlines around the world made at least two people in the cockpit mandatory at all times. It will not be possible to jump from two mandatory pilots to no pilots. Having two pilots in the cockpit has been the norm for several decades. In addition to there being no transport-category aircraft certificated for a single pilot or pilotless flight, it’s unclear whether passengers or their insurers or carriers would accept or permit it, said aviation consultant Robert Mann, a former American Airlines executive.
As a compromise Airbus SE is looking to develop autonomous aircraft and technologies that will allow a single pilot to operate commercial jetliners, helping cut costs for carriers, chief technology officer Paul Eremenko said.
The Toulouse, France is also exploring technologies that will bring more automation to the cockpit of planes that could help resolve shortage of pilots in countries like China, as it’s emerging as the world’s biggest aviation market. Discussions are on with Chinese companies such as Baidu Inc to find ways to apply self-driving vehicles to the aviation industry, Eremenko said. In the meantime, Airbus’s A3 Silicon Valley think tank has been working on its proposed Vahana flying taxi, due for its first test before the end of this year. The pilotless, electric-powered vehicle could be hailed like a conventional cab, but won’t get stuck in traffic jams.