Autonomous commercial aircraft on the horizon

Boeing wants to advance autonomy of commercial aircraft

Autonomous aircraft and technologies allowing single-pilot or even unmanned operation of commercial planes could become a reality in future.

Last month, Boeing signed an agreement with plans to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, which specialises in autonomous systems technologies to enable robotic aircraft for future aerospace applications and vehicles.

Advancing autonomy of commercial aircraft

“The combined strength and innovation of our teams will advance the development of autonomy for our commercial and military systems,” said Greg Hyslop, chief technology officer and senior vice president of Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology.

Leveraging autonomous systems that include perception, machine learning and advanced flight control systems, Aurora has designed, produced and flown more than 30 unmanned air vehicles since the company was founded in 1989. Aurora Flight Sciences is a leader in the emerging field of electric propulsion for aircraft.

Once acquired, Aurora will be a subsidiary under Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology known as Aurora Flight Sciences, A Boeing Company, while retaining an independent operating model.

More recently, Airbus’ chief technology officer, Paul Eremenko, was reported by Singapore’s Straits Times to have discussed a “disruptive approach” to trim crew size for future aircraft on a Bloomberg Television broadcast.

The Straits Times quoted Eremenko to have said that Airbus was pursuing single-pilot operation and “the technologies needed to make that happen have also put us on the path towards unpiloted operation”.

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