Widebody freighters could be piloted remotely within 15 years

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Civil freight aircraft will be flown by either a single pilot on board with a remote co-pilot on the ground, or no onboard crew at all, within 10-15 years, the ATC Global conference in Amsterdam has heard.

This prediction came from Steven Pennington, executive director of the US Department of Defense's policy board on federal aviation, who as a senior military official has considerable experience of managing the deployment and operation of unmanned air vehicles of all sizes and mission types.

Pennington says that one of air traffic management's major challenges for the near-term future is going to be the management of UAVs, because a significant proportion of both civil and military operations will be carried out by them.

For commercial civil aviation, he predicts, this will start with the freight operations "of companies like FedEx and UPS", using a single-pilot crew, or being piloted completely from the ground.