Have you ever had a panic attack in mid-flight? Those that have will tell you it’s not fun. And there are plenty of reasons that make people panic. Some of them – irrationally.
Would these people feel any better if we could get rid of pilots altogether?
The technology already seems to be there – drones are not a particularly new invention. Armies use drones the size of airplanes in war zones, where they are controlled remotely or loiter flying a pattern. Even helicopters can be pilotless, like the K-MAX, which is as big as a standard helicopter, and delivers aid supplies with stunning precision to dangerous locations.
Airplane accidents are rare today, but when they happen, they are getting harder and harder to solve, says Tim Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s magazine Aerospace. That’s why investigations often focus on ‘human factors’, identifying psychological and physiological issues as a probable cause.
Two decades ago, it was standard to have three pilots in the cockpit; now the standard is to have two, says Scott Winter, assistant professor of aeronautics at Florida Institute of Technology.