This is your robot speaking: We could be flying in pilotless planes by 2040

Emma Haslett
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Just as we were beginning to get used to the inevitability of driverless cars, another, rather scarier transport sector is about to go automatic: step forward, the pilotless plane, which researchers at UBS believe could be ubiquitous by 2040 - saving airlines $35bn (£27bn) a year.

With pilotless planes are currently being trialed, analysis by the Swiss bank suggested they could be used commonly for air taxis and cargo flights by the 2020s, before spreading into business jets and helicopters by the 2030s.

By the 2040s, pilotless technology will be regularly used to reduce cockpit workload on commercial passenger jets, suggested the researchers.

Reducing the intervention of human pilots could save airlines $35bn a year, the research suggested, with $26bn in savings on pilots, $133bn saved on fuel as robots find more optimised flight paths, and $3bn saved each year on lower insurance premiums and pilot training costs.

The only fly in the ointment may be persuading people to board pilotless flights in the first place: research by UBS suggested more than half of respondents said they'd be "unlikely" to take a pilotless flights, while only 17 per cent said they are definitely up for it.

That said, the yoof seems more keen: 30 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 said they are willing to give it a go.

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Boeing gives pilotless a chance

Back in June it emerged Boeing was mulling pilotless planes, with plans to try out its first models next year, and begin flights in 2025.

Mike Sinnett, Boeing's vice president of product development, told Reuters that with self-piloted drones already commonplace, "the basic building blocks of the technology clearly are available".

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