Civil freight aircraft will be flown by either a single pilot on board with a remote co-pilot on the ground, or no on-board crew at all within 10 to 15 years, delegates of the ATC Global conference in Amsterdam were told.
The extraordinary prediction came from Steve Pennington, executive director of the US policy board on federal aviation, who spoke at the event earlier this month.
As a senior military official, Pennington has considerable experience of managing the deployment and operation of unmanned air vehicles across various sizes and mission types.
Pennington says one of air traffic management's major challenges for the near future will be managing UAVs, because they will be used in a significant proportion of civil and military operations.
He predicts this will start in commercial civil aviation via the freight operations of companies such as FedEx and UPS, which will use a single-pilot crew or pilot devices entirely from the ground.