Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Remote controlled passenger planes are here. Would you fly in one?

It seems the age of the pilotless' plane is upon us with the news that the first remotely controlled passenger jet flew over London last month. The test flight was part of the £62M industry and Government funded  Astraea project (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment Programme). This was a Jetstream plane specially kitted out with cameras, sensors and additional computer banks which enabled a team of controllers many miles away on the ground to control the aircraft in flight - although there was a crew on board in case of emergency.
On learning about this development, I had more than a few thoughts about it. Now, I know remote controlled drones have been a part of military hardware for years, but even so, the thought of me trapped in a metal tube thousand of feet in the air with my life in the hands of some controller somewhere is not at all comforting.
It's like that joke about the pilot telling everyone over the intercom to look left at the engine on fire and then look down at the raft where he is speaking from.
Mind you, these days aircraft fly on autopilot anyway but we still have the comfort of a warm body in front who does occasionally speak to us in calm reassuring tones.
Not quite the same as someone in a control tower somewhere letting us now our progress whilst doing a crossword now is it?
I suppose the next development after that will be flights devoid of flight attendants too, something for Michael O'Leary at Ryan Air to ponder on no doubt!