The call from one of Plane Talking’s editorial referee pilots was blunt. “Now that the airlines won’t pay decent rates and conditions, Boeing is getting into the technology that can do away with them altogether.”
A few extra angry words have been left out. But the conversation follows on yesterday’s post about Airbus firing up the full scale propulsion system for an automated ‘fixed route’ sky taxi.
Boeing is buying Aurora Flight Sciences, a maker of drones and aviation parts, in an avowed bid to bring increased automation to airliners, military drones and even personal air taxis, like its rivals in Europe.
The official statements quoted in this CNN report haven’t made it to the outer darkness of Australia just yet, but the American story is authoritative and sourced to identified Boeing officials.
As reported Boeing said as recently as June that it would explore automation for commercial aircraft. The plans came in response to concerns that the industry would experience a shortage of pilots in the near future that would hamper the growth of world air travel. Boeing had estimated that the industry will need 637,000 pilots over the next 20 years.
This is of course, just part of the challenges that surging demand is creating for civil aviation. Another critical component is airspace availability, and enough runways.
To the extent that technological developments might allow vertical takeoffs and landings, the runway issue might be ‘eased’. Better rapid surface transport will also take away some of the pressure where it is feasible to invest in new rail or maglev technology, or the claustrophobic delights of hyperloop tubes.
The framework for most automated ‘driverless’ car projects also involves the close spacing of vehicles, to the point where cloverleaf type motorway graded separations are a thing of the past, and you just shut your eyes while hurtling with millimetres to spare through multilaned right angled intersections confident that Windows for Traffic Version Two Million will never have a bloody wall of death moment.
That same theoretically feasible close spacing technique could radically lift the carrying capacity of air corridors, if they were needed at all.
There is a brave new ‘eyes shut tight’ world of travel delights awaiting us, or our descendants, sometime in the coming decades. Whether we like it or not.