The Airbus autonomous-airliner roadmap could see the technology pioneered with single-pilot operations of cargo aircraft, ahead of its introduction on passenger airliners.

Speaking at the ISTAT EMEA conference in Berlin on 25 September, Daniela Lohwasser, head of research and technology at Airbus, outlined the manufacturer’s thinking around the introduction of autonomous airliners, and confirmed it was working on technology to make single-pilot operations a reality.

“We can already see that there is a shortage of pilots… and that will not get better in the coming years,” says Lohwasser.

The move to “green flying will make aircraft more expensive to produce, and to operate because fuel costs would be higher”, she adds. “So we have to see how we can get operating costs down, and single-pilot operation could be such a way.”

Lohwasser says that the eventual target is for a fully-autonomous aircraft that does not require pilots. “Even in the single-pilot operating case, you have to create dual safety. Our ambition is that single-pilot operation must be safer than current aircraft.”

Airbus is investigating single-pilot operation of freighter aircraft as “a stepping stone” to this arrangement on passenger aircraft, says Lohwasser. “It will not be a one-step approach [to single-pilot passenger operations].”