With the expanding abilities of artificial technology (AI), airplanes may now seemingly move from autopilot mode to AI pilot mode. From two trained pilots present inside the cockpit, the situation may change to no pilots at all, with AI pilots flying the airplanes more smoothly and safely.

At least that’s how Emirates airline president Tim Clark feels. In his latest interview, Clark said that passenger planes may have AI co-pilots in the near future. He emphasised the possibility of a single-pilot aircraft further indicating that the technology of fully automated flights is already advancing. 

“You might see a one-pilot aircraft. Could the aircraft be flown on a fully automated basis? Yes it could, technology is right up there now. [But passengers] like to think there are two pilots up there. There will always be somebody on the flight deck in my view,” Clark stated. 

His comments raged the debate over how fast and to what extent should AI technology be developed.

However, the Emirates airline president later emphasised the skills of the trained pilots. 

“Pilots are not merely plane drivers; they are highly skilled professionals who play a crucial role in a comprehensive safety system that ensures the safe arrival of passengers, crew, and cargo at their destinations,” Clark said. 

“Pilots have diverse responsibilities beyond flying the aircraft. They act as navigators, engineers, technicians, weather experts, and customer service managers. On a typical day, pilots interact with various individuals, including aircrew, ground crew, cabin crew, air traffic control, and passengers. Effective communication is essential for pilots, both in aviation-specific terms (e.g., using radio communication with air traffic control) and on an interpersonal level,” he added.

“For a start, pilots fly with so many different crews that they must be able to establish a rapport with other flight and cabin crew easily. They must be able to exchange information clearly with people they have never met before. A pilot also must communicate information to passengers. As well as being responsible for their passengers, a captain has the ultimate responsibility for all the crew on board. Understanding their needs, flight time limitations, rest requirements, industrial agreements and supporting them in their dealings with passengers is a vital part of the job,” Clark stated. 

Going back to the idea of completely pilotless planes, he stated, “Could the aircraft be flown on a fully automated basis? Yes it could, technology is right up there now, [but] there’ll always be somebody on the flight deck in my view.” 

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