Boeing says pilotless planes to be tested

June 11, 2017

Boeing is to examine pilotless aircraft and will test the technology this year in a simulator.

At a special media briefing ahead of next week’s Paris Air Show Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s VP of Product Development said that "the basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available." 

Mr Sinnett, who is a pilot himself, said that Boeing will test the artificial intelligence technology in a cockpit simulator this summer and then fly it on “an airplane next year” 

Given that it works, the next big challenge would be convincing regulators that it is safe and working out certification standards.

Mr Sinnett conceded that he had “no idea how we're going to do that." 

"But we're studying it right now and we're developing those algorithms," he told media.

The final challenge would be convincing passengers and that may be the hardest of all.

Over the decades the number of crew on aircraft has been declining as technology has advanced.

Even the first commercial jets in the 1950s had five crew made up of two pilots, an engineer, navigator, and radio operator.

The navigator and radio operator had gone by the 60s and the engineer’s role diminished with new designs starting with smaller jets such as the DC-9.

The advent of larger widebody aircraft such as the Boeing 767 saw the engineer’s role eliminated, although Australia’s Ansett Airlines had an engineer’s position.

Today, no western aircraft designs are produced with an engineer’s position.