Airbus has concluded a two-year-long test project of autonomous systems after over 500 flights, achieving significant breakthroughs in technology demonstrations.

“In completing this project, Airbus has achieved autonomous taxiing, take-off and landing of a commercial aircraft through fully automatic vision-based flight tests using on-board image recognition technology - a world-first in aviation,” says the manufacturer.

Airbus initiated its autonomous taxi, take-off and landing (ATTOL) programme to explore how technologies, such as machine-learning algorithms and automated tools for data labelling, processing and model generation, could help flightcrews focus less on the aircraft operation and more on mission management.

Airbus ATTOL autonomous project completion 2

Source: Airbus

A key milestone was achieved on 18 December last year when Airbus demonstrated a fully-automated take-off using a vision-based system to track the runway centreline and initiate rotation without human side-stick input (pictured above). Test pilot Yann Beaufils said the crew simply moved the A350-1000’s thrust levers to the take-off setting and then monitored proceedings while the autonomous systems controlled the aircraft.

Airbus says the ATTOL programme involved approximately 450 flights dedicated to gathering raw video data to support and fine-tune algorithms. A series of six test flights, each one including five take-offs and landings per run, were used to test autonomous flight capabilities.

Research into autonomous technologies will continue alongside other innovations in areas such as materials, alternative propulsion systems and connectivity, says Airbus: “By leveraging these opportunities, Airbus is opening up possibilities for creating new business models that will transform how aircraft are developed, manufactured, flown, powered and serviced.”