The Autonomous Aviation Revolution

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) is launching an initiative called AVIATE- Advancing Aviation Innovation and Autonomous Technology for Everyone, that will prepare and accelerate the realization of autonomous aviation and ensure its responsible adoption.

According to Cybernews, the WEF believes that using autonomy in aviation could enhance safety, expand access, and reduce the need for humans to perform dangerous jobs. Most anticipated is the development of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), an air transportation system that transports individuals and property between points consisting of smaller vertical take-off aircraft, which experts believe could be the most significant change to aviation since the jet age.

We are already seeing prototypical examples of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, like the air taxis that filled the skies at the recent Paris Airshow and are set to transport passengers during the Olympic Games of 2024.

Despite the great excitement surrounding the idea of large drones carrying people and goods around, the WEF clarifies that the adoption will be gradual, writing: “Beyond the excitement surrounding initial operations, it is important to note that AAM’s impact on our lives will grow gradually. The first such air-taxi services will be limited in numbers, and will likely be restricted to “premium journeys,” making them an unlikely everyday transportation option for most people.”

The WEF responds to fears of autonomous functions by mentioning how autonomy can augment human capabilities rather than replace them. After all, many aircraft functions today are already automated, like autopilots and flight control systems guiding planes often without much human intervention. This progress is intended to alleviate pilots’ operational burdens and reduce the risk of human error or fatigue.

Nowadays there are already small autonomous drones used to assist search and rescue efforts, and they might soon be joined by larger autonomous aircraft for more dangerous pilot jobs like firefighting.

Autonomy in civil aviation is also in the works, like Cathay Pacific working with Airbus to introduce “reduced crew” long-haul flights with a sole pilot in the cockpit much of the time, or Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun quoted saying that “the future of autonomy is real for civil.”

But this whole process will surely take time, since safety is the number one priority, and systems will slowly get more and more autonomous while maintaining the safety of the humans using them.