It seems like Airbus has moved one step closer towards pilotless commercial flights after revealing that one of its test aircraft has taken off automatically. Airbus on 18th December, conducted a total of eight test take-offs on auto-pilot at Toulouse-Blagnac airport, two pilots were seated in the A350-1000 ready to take over if needed. The aircraft departed by using a vision-based automatic system.
Captain Yann Beaufils, the test pilot said “We moved the throttle levers to the take-off setting and we monitored the aircraft. It started to move and accelerate automatically maintaining the runway centerline, at the exact rotation speed as entered in the system. The nose of the aircraft began to lift up automatically to take the expected take-off pitch value and a few seconds later we were airborne.”
Along with the press release was a photograph in which the pilot was seated with one hand on his knees while the nose lifted. Airbus also said that the technology behind the takeoff is different from the ILS or Instrument Landing System that is being used currently. The aircraft uses image recognition technology for automatic takeoffs.
This automatic takeoff is a great step towards the ATTOL or Autonomous Taxi, Take-off and Landing project. The European aircraft manufacturer also stated that it would test pilotless taxiing by the end of 2020. However, Airbus shared that even after seeing so much advancement in automation, pilots will still remain at the heart of its service. Moreover, the technology is being used to minimize the challenges the industry faces.
After the two fatal Boeing 737MAX crashes there have been questions on automation in flight. However, Airbus seems confident enough to take automation to the next level.
Swiss bank UBS has estimated that a pilot is in full control of an aircraft for just 7 minutes on an average on each flight. They also claim that single-pilot commercial and cargo planes will take the skies over the next five years. However, a survey conducted by UBS in 2017 concluded that around 63% of people oppose flying in a pilotless airplane.