Pilotless planes could save airlines US$35 billion, UBS says
By Alexandra Gibbs
Pilotless planes could not only be a future method of transport, but an economically-beneficial one too, according to new research by Swiss bank UBS which claims that they could save airlines billions of dollars.
“Reducing the intervention of human pilots on aircraft could bring material economic benefits and improve safety,” UBS analysts wrote in a note.
In terms of material economic benefits, analysts from the bank stated that there could be a material profit opportunity of more than US$35 billion per year for the aerospace and aviation industry.
To uncover these savings, UBS suggested that the sector would have to look at a number of elements, including how airlines could benefit from lower operating and training costs, reduced fuel costs and insurance premium costs. Overall, the Swiss bank said that there could be US$26 billion in pilot cost savings for commercial airline firms alone.
“The opportunity, we believe, would be dependent on the timing of the roll-out of pilotless planes and we think it is likely we would initially see cargo the first subsector to adopt new related technologies, with the number of pilots falling from two to one and eventually from one to none,” the note said.
Already, commercial aircrafts use computers and technology on-board to assist in a number of functions, including the autopilot system.
In June, Boeing stated that it was looking into the concept of pilotless technology, and last week announced that it was to set up an avionics group, in order to create aircraft controls and electronics, according to Reuters.
UBS added that it didn’t think investors were pricing in any advantages for commercial airlines at present, as these benefits “may be more than five years out.”
However, there are still issues that the industry is likely to face before this idea takes off.
Out of the 8,000 people who participated in a recent UBS Evidence Lab Survey, 54 per cent said they were reluctant to take a pilotless flight, with only 17 per cent stating that they would likely welcome the opportunity.
Delving into the survey’s numbers, UBS stated that in terms of willingness to embark on a pilotless plane, younger participants between the age of 18 and 34 appeared more inclined, with 30 per cent willing to try out the experience. UBS added that this could be beneficial for the industry, as “acceptance should grow with time.”
Aside from customer viewpoints towards pilotless planes, the bank also noted that there would be “design, security and technological challenges” facing the idea of making this a reality, along with the need for more regulation in this area.