Will Automation Eventually Replace Pilots?

 - November 14, 2018, 8:52 AM
Embraer Executive Jets president and CEO Michael Amalfitano believes the push for urban air vehicles, such as the one Embraer X is exploring, will lead to single-pilot and eventually fully automated (no pilot on board) aircraft operations.

The current pilot shortage and push for urban air vehicles are leading to the development of technology that could allow single-pilot, remote pilot, or even fully automated (no pilot) aircraft operations within the next decade, Embraer Executive Jets president and CEO Michael Amalfitano said yesterday at the Corporate Jet Investor Miami conference.

While Jet Aviation senior v-p of flight services Don Haloburdo boldly claimed that “pilots might be unemployed in 15 years” due to automation, Amalfitano envisions a longer timeline—at least for traditional aircraft—and more of a phased approach before regulators allow pilotless aircraft carrying passengers. That's notwithstanding passenger acceptance of pilotless aircraft—in fact, 71 percent of those taking part in a reader survey by AIN sister publication Business Jet Traveler would “probably not” or “definitely not” fly on an aircraft without a pilot on board.

According to Amalfitano, sister company Embraer X is working on an optionally piloted urban air vehicle that is expected to be certified in 2023. But, given regulatory limitations, it would be certified as a single-pilot aircraft and, under its phased approach, the company would then work to get approval for a remote pilot with onboard flight manager, followed by just a remote pilot, and eventually with no pilot, he said.

Embraer Executive Jets is leveraging the work that Embraer X is doing in this area, Amalfitano said, but with an initial phase calling for single-pilot jets weighing more than 12,500 pounds. As proof that full automation is coming, he cited FAA data saying jet pilots are currently performing just 30 percent of the flying, with automation taking over the rest.