06/14/17 11:37AM Boeing, Pilotless Aircraft

Boeing Plans Tests For Autonomous Airliner


Boeing plans to start flight tests next year of an artificial-intelligence system that would be capable of flying a commercial jet, Mike Sinnett, vice president of product development at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said at a recent press briefing. Sinnett said his team will fly a simulator later this year with the AI system making some of the piloting decisions, and they will test-fly it next year on a real airplane. “There’s going to be a transition from the requirement to have a skilled aviator operate the airplane to having a system that operates the vehicle autonomously, if we can do that with the same level of safety,” Sinnett said, according to the Seattle Times. “That’s a really big if,” he added.

The standards that airplanes must meet are much higher than for cars, where fatality rates are high. Autonomous cars can easily improve on the accident rate compared to human drivers. Yet U.S. airlines have not had a fatal accident since 2009. That means the accident rate of autonomous airplanes will need “to be as good as zero,” Sinnett said. Sinnett said Boeing’s interest in autonomous flight is driven by a concern that the supply of qualified pilots may not be adequate to meet the needs of airlines. In the next two decades, Boeing forecasts sales of about 40,000 new commercial jets. “Where will the experienced pilots come from?” Sinnett asked. Sinnett plans to talk more about the autonomy project next week at the Paris Air Show, according to the Times.