Boeing is exploring the possibility of replacing pilots on commercial flights with artificial intelligence. It would be in charge of all the activities related to the piloting of the aircraft on the ground and during the flight.
As reported in The Seattle Times, flight simulations should be conducted this year initially by replacing pilots with artificial intelligence. As of next year, it is planned to carry out real experimental flights, but without any passengers on board the aircraft, using artificial intelligence instead of pilots.
Before the start of the Paris Air Show conference, Mike Sinnett, vice president of Boeing’s innovation and technology division, said: “There will be a transition from the experienced pilot required in the cockpit of the aircraft to reach the stage of the vehicle entirely driven by a stand-alone system, the basic elements of the technology are clearly available.”
To justify its choice of artificial intelligence in place of the pilots, the Boeing company advances the argument of the increase of the air traffic in the long term. In the next 20 years, Boeing will have to double its current fleet and proceed with the acquisition of about 40,000 new commercial aircraft.
On January 15, 2009, Commander Chesley Sullenberger faced an unprecedented situation aboard his plane carrying 155 people while flying over New York. Two minutes after the launch of its Airbus A320 from LaGuardia International Airport, wild birds hit the cabin and the reactors causing them to stop. Three minutes later, Commander Chesley Sullenberger succeeded in placing the plane without too much damage, trains retracted, on the frozen waters of the Hudson River avoiding the worst possible scenarios.
The actions were taken by the pilot in the seconds that followed the incident until its resolution saved the lives of all the people on board the plane that day. These actions are considered today as a case study. It should not be forgotten that the objective in the civil aviation industry has always been “zero death,” not the reduction of the number of potential victims as with road safety.
For Mike Sinnett, the challenge would be to successfully program an artificial intelligence so that it can behave exactly like this: “If you can not do it, you have to give up.”
It should be remembered that computers benefit from a very advanced integration within the aeronautical industry. There are already machines that assist pilots in flight, perform automatic landings or control the flight of the aircraft in the automatic pilot mode without requiring the pilot to intervene. It would even be able to carry out automatic take-offs, but this procedure is not allowed.
Sinnett said that the first step towards certification of a commercial aircraft today is through the creation of a system operating in a deterministic way: The same causes produce the same effects. But since nobody is able to predict 100% the turn of events during the different phases of flight, an autonomous flying machine has an obligation to be able to adopt a non-deterministic functioning to face a situation that has not preprogrammed.