Skip to main content

Airbus Flies Airliner Without a Pilot

Can a commercial airliner take off, fly and land without a pilot?  Airbus has flown a new A350-1000 without the help of pilots 500 times in a research project that involves equipping the huge aircraft with a form of machine vision it calls “image recognition technology.”  Using external cameras, the system processes the resulting images to make all of the adjustments needed in the various phases of flight. Those cameras are the same ones used by pilots for moving around on the ground without bending or scraping anything.  Passengers can also watch the operation on the entertainment system. 

When the research program began in 2018, pilots were partners with the computers and did the taxi and runway lineup.  By the end of the program, however, the aircraft taxied, took off and landed all on its own.  There were pilots on these later flights, but they didn’t touch anything.

With such an advancement, the next big question is: Where does the technology go from here?  Will passengers embrace flying without pilots on board; or will they demand at least one pilot aboard to act in a supervisory role?