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Politics & Current Affairs

Bringing Unmanned Commercial Flight Closer To Reality

UK aviation experts are weeks away from performing a test in which a pilot will fly a twin-engine Jetstream from the comfort of a control room on the ground.

What’s the Latest Development?

In the next few weeks, UK researchers are scheduled to test-fly a twin-engine Jetstream aircraft outfitted with video cameras and controlled by a pilot on the ground. The flight, which will take place over Scotland, will determine the communications quality between the ground pilot and air traffic controllers, and it won’t be completely empty; a pilot will be on board to take over in case something goes wrong. The test is part of the government-backed Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA) program, which involves seven European aviation companies. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Both Europe and the US are pushing the aviation industry to take unmanned flights from the military arena into the civilian market, which estimates say will be worth more than $50 billion worldwide by 2020. Pilotless aircraft could be used in a variety of applications, from police surveillance to environmental monitoring to search-and-rescue missions. However, it will be a while before pilots will have to worry about their on-board jobs’ extinction. Realistically speaking, most cargo and passenger flights will still have one pilot on board; they just may be in the cockpit by themselves.

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