Thursday, June 26, 2014
What happens when you don't train enough replacements
I note with interest that Japanese airlines are going to have to cancel thousands of flights this year because many of that country's older pilots are being forced to retire - and there aren't enough younger ones to replace them. The same problem will affect US airlines to an increasing extent in the near future.
Like it or not, I think this will drive the development of automatically piloted aircraft to an ever-increasing extent. Just as automatically piloted cars are now being tested, so expect this technology to extend to the airlines sooner rather than later. At present each major commercial flight has two pilots. I expect that within ten to twenty years, technology will have developed to the point that each flight will have a single pilot who's basically along for the ride. He'll be there as a backup to the automated technology that's actually flying the plane - or as a backup to a pilot sitting on the ground somewhere, flying the aircraft by remote control, just as is now common with military UAV's. Within another decade or two, I expect to see the first fully automated flights, without a pilot at all.
That's a scary prospect at present, with UAV's having recorded a far higher accident rate than manned aircraft. However, like it or not, if there aren't enough pilots, this is the way the airline industry will have to go.