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As Boeing Ponders Next Jetliner, It Also Studies Pilotless Planes

As Boeing Ponders Next Jetliner, It Also Studies Pilotless Planes
Boeing Co aims to test some of a pilotless technology next year and the world's biggest plane maker said in a briefing ahead of the Paris Airshow said that it is looking ahead to a brave new world where jetliners fly without pilots.
Mike Sinnett, Boeing's vice president of product development said: "the basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available," with self-flying drones available for less than $1,000, even though the idea may seem far-fetched at present to some.
Over the past years, the number of pilots on a standard passenger plane has dropped to two from three over the years and now Jetliners can already take off, cruise and land using their onboard flight computers.
Sinnett, a pilot himself, said that he plans to "fly on an airplane next year some artificial intelligence that makes decisions that pilots would make" and is almost ready to test the technology in a cockpit simulator this summer.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, the air travel industry has had its safest year in 2016 but the self-flying aircraft would need to meet the safety standards of air travel and other government regulations in different countries.
"I have no idea how we're going to do that," Sinnett said. "But we're studying it right now and we're developing those algorithms."
As global demand for air travel continues to grow, in part to deal with a projected need for 1.5 million pilots over the next 20 years, airlines are among those that are backing the idea of self-flying airplanes.
But Sinnett said that as Captain Chesley Sullenberger did in the "Miracle on the Hudson," a self-flying plane would need to be able land safely. "If it can't, then we can't go there."
Sullenberger managed to glide the Airbus A320 to a safe landing on the Hudson River, saving all 150 passengers on board after a U.S. Airways plane hit a flock of geese shortly after taking off from New York in 2009 knocking out its engines.
In order to plug a gap in its product line between its best-selling narrow-bodied 737 and its larger 787 Dreamliner, Boeing is also inching closer to creating its next new aircraft. It aims to bring the new jet to customers around 2025.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Kevin McAllister said in a separate briefing that the company concluded that current wide-body planes have too much range for most of the routes narrow-body planes fly, after in-depth talks with nearly 60 customers.
"This is a market that cannot be served by narrow-bodies - not by ours or our competitors'" he said, referring to rival Airbus. "It can be served by wide-bodies, the question is can it be more efficiently served by a targeted airplane?"

Christopher J. Mitchell

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