Travel this summer looks chaotic, but why do we still need pilots?

A hot summer is on its way. That would be the huge crowds that we can expect at the airports
can end in chaos. Cause? Lack of land crews combined with the anger of the pilots. They have seen their pay come under considerable pressure in recent years. That while post-corona has just returned to a huge demand for pilots. But do we need pilots at all? Was not automation and robotization the economic Swiss army knife that would solve everything?

The chaos that we can expect – and which is already a fact in Britain, partly if
due to stricter customs controls due to Brexit- is a result of planned pilot strikes
and ground staff, but also from acute staff shortages. The pilots from Brussels Airlines
has meanwhile announced that the traveler can expect strikes.

Fair wage demands

First of all, there is nothing wrong with the pilots’ wage demands. If you want to be a pilot, you have to do it yourself
finance your education – cost: soon more than 100,000 euros – and your work plan is not always ideal either.
Long-haul flights, jet lag and a great deal of responsibility justify more than good compensation. In addition, pilots have suffered more than expected during the corona crisis. This has cut a big hole in their budget for many pilots.

Old technology

But you may be asking yourself why pilots are still needed. We talk all the time about self-driving cars, automation and robotics, but the job that can actually be most easily automated in the field of mobility – next to train conductors – has definitely not been studied. Making a self-driving car is virtually impossible – engineers are gradually finding out – but a plane flies from point A to point B. The industry also has a much larger budget to cram such a plane full of technology because the cost to computer science is relatively limited compared to the rest of the plane.

The technology is also old. The first automatic navigation module already existed in 1914. Two
pilots, the mechanic Emil Cachin and the American pilot Lawrence Sperry, flew for a while along the Seine without any direction, admired and cheered by a large crowd of game
screaming spectators. Even better: They both stood on the wings of their self-built
aircraft while the cockpit was empty. Now you have a revolution in drone technology and artificial intelligence has arrived. Even scenarios that are not in the manual can be simulated by computers.

Emil Cachin and Lawrence Perry, the first ‘travelers’ in an unmanned aircraft in 1914

Airlines request party

Many airline executives argue quietly or loudly to eliminate pilots completely in 2 steps. First, one would switch from 2 pilots to 1 pilot. The planes would then be sent into the air completely unmanned. That, of course, would provide a huge return.
After all, most airlines operate in an industry that is famous for its high losses
and supported by grants. You can understand the pilots, but also theirs
employers who want to cut into a large cost item.

The acute shortage of pilots

There is an additional reason which is not economical. There also seems to be a great shortage among the pilots
to get up. Over the next 20 years, an additional 600,000 pilots will be needed. The airlines
already estimates that there will be a shortage of 34,000 pilots by 2025.

60% of plane crashes are man-made

There is also an even more controversial reason to continue with automation. Most
accidents are due to human error. Just over 60% – the ‘other’ column includes mainly human errors from land herds – due to pilot errors. The remaining 40% is due to mechanical problems, sabotage and bad weather. Sometimes a pilot can still rescue the passengers, but in many cases the parameters are misinterpreted.

The causes of plane crashes (Source: Planecrashinfo.com)

Pilots will obviously not agree with this and will refer to the extraordinary
circumstances justifying the need for two pilots at any one time. Most quoted
example is the famous landing on the Hudson River in New York by pilot classmate Sully
Sullenberger.

The problem with that reasoning is that such unusual events are difficult to train
most flights are scheduled flights – so training for it can rarely be performed ‘live’,
which also reduces preparedness. Today, most pilots fly up 90% of the time
‘autopilot’.

The Miracle of the Hudson River. Thanks to a flawless landing on the Hudson by Captain Sullenberger
all passengers are rescued (Source: Purduy University)

Flying again becomes a pleasure

However, there is another added benefit. The budget will be released to better compensate cabin crew. If you’re on a low cost flight now, you should be glad you got your fingers in a paying cola. Flying then becomes a pleasure again, while it has now become a burden. Extra money can also be used to speed up the search for environmentally friendly aircraft. And why not pay the ground staff better, because it has now also become a bottleneck.

The traveler does not want it

However, those who are afraid that we are on our way to unmanned flights or aircraft with 1 pilot can be calm. The main reason is, in addition to the strength of the pilots’ unions, of course the people themselves, who have a hard time dealing with change. What if the plane gets hacked? What if the computers fail? Etc. Mankind is by far the biggest brake in the transition process to unmanned aircraft.

The fifteenth bottleneck

Due to this lack of pilots, fewer flights will be able to take place. It’s like with teachers, job students, cleaning assistants, … We’re going to a world with only shortages. This is good news for pilots. They get more and more pay for the next 20 years. Ticket prices, in turn, will also rise sharply. Finished flying to Barcelona for 9 euros and that might be a good thing.


Xavier Verellen is an author and entrepreneur. (www.qelviq.com)

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