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Autonomous Planes Are Cheaper, but Nobody Trusts Them

Who is in the cockpit?

The public is not ready to board on self-flying airplanes, a survey by bank UBS revealed.

It is widely believed that pilotless planes would be cheaper —some estimates project they would save airlines over $30 billion (£23 bln) a year in fuel, salaries and training— and recent technological advances could make them a reality sooner than expected.

Still, out of a poll of 8,000 people UBS questioned on the subject, over 50 percent answered they would not travel in an autonomous craft, even if it cost less.

Only 17 percent would be onboard with the idea, although younger respondents were generally keener on that (27 percent in the 18-24 cohort, and 31 percent in the 25-34 cohort would give unmanned planes it a chance. )

“This may bode well for the future development of such technology, as the 18–34 age group grows older and maintains such an attitude towards flying on pilotless planes,” UBS commented.

Geographically, Americans passengers are the most open to the idea (27 percent), whereas French and Germans are the least enthusiastic, with only 13 percent of respondents from those countries trusting of pilotless aircraft.

The Verge notes how, in its report, UBS predicted that getting rid of pilots might allow European passengers to get a (not exactly whopping) 4 percent reduction in fares , while “the average percentage of total cost and average benefit that could be passed onto passengers in price reduction for the US airlines is 11 percent.”

Many in the aerospace industry think that, technologically, planes able to self-steer themselves are around the corner, if not already here.

Over the last years, R&D projects by Airbus or Israel-based Urban Aeronautics have successfully created uncrewed airplanes. That would not even be a dramatic step: automated flight systems already do the overwhelming majority of the manoeuvring on today’s airliners.

In fact, the real issues are not technical: they concern regulation, procedures, and, crucially, how passengers feel about it.

Given UBS’s report, it is likely that pilotless craft will first be used in sectors other than passenger flights— such as cargo flights.

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