The artificial intelligence that Boeing will test will be capable of making decisions normally made by pilots. Sinnett said that the technology could be used to reduce the number of pilots required for long-haul flights or, in some situations, allow fully autonomous flying.
Robert W. Mann Jr., an independent airline industry analyst and consultant, said that the air transport industry faces a global shortage of pilots. Rising demand for global air travel, especially in emerging markets, has outpaced the ability of airlines to bolster their staffs. For Mann, the key question is whether the market will accept the idea of autonomous planes.
“Will passengers willingly utilize a pilotless aircraft?” he asked. “I suspect that they would first go into use by cargo, since boxes don’t have a voice.”
Sinnett said the autonomous technology will be tested in aircraft sometime next year.