It seems we have gone full circle now: driverless cars, flying cars for the Tokyo Olympics, and now a pilotless plane; that is what Boeing has said it is thinking about doing in an announcement ahead of the Paris Airshow.
This is a very early statement and we know very little about the aircraft it might design, but it does plan on beginning tests next year. One reason behind the idea is that there is an ever-growing demand for air travel, with some projecting that we will need an additional 1.5 million pilots over the next 20 years to meet the increase in demand.
In reality, aircraft are already highly automated, with numerous systems and abilities; in fact, they can already take off, cruise and land using the current onboard computers, and the number of pilots in the cockpit has been reduced from 3 to 2 over the years. On top of that, numerous militaries are already using drones to fly missions all over the world, and Boeing says it would like to explore the use of similar technologies for passenger airliners.
There are still lots of hurdles and question marks. There are those who are asking regulatory questions - but also, what about those extreme instances where a pilot might be needed, such as the perfect emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson river in 2009?
Boeing previously revealed that it is 3D printing some of its core parts for the 787, and it would seem the company is keen to utilize all of the latest tech. Perhaps once driverless cars become more commonplace, people might be more comfortable with cruising at hundreds of miles per hour in a pilotless plane.