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Airbus Conducts Successful Tests in Pilotless Flights

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The future is here! After decades of autonomous airplanes being nothing but talk, Airbus has confirmed a test aircraft took off automatically at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in France last December, along with a series of successful tests on autopilot.

The test aircraft A350-1000 achieved eight automatic takeoffs over a period of four and a half hours, due to new image recognition technology installed on the aircraft.

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Airbus has confirmed that the next steps include tests on automatic vision-based taxi and landing sequences, which will be performed later this year.

The idea of fully automatic commercial jets is one that has been expected to come to fruition for decades, as a survey in 2019 found that 70 percent of 22,000 travelers feel ready to fly in a fully autonomous aircraft.

However, incidents such as the Boeing 737 MAX jet crashes of 2019 raise questions of the safety issues with fully automatic planes. According to Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer for Airbus, the Boeing disasters “highlighted and underlined the need for absolute, uncompromising safety in this industry, whether from Airbus, Boeing or any other plane.”

Despite its recent success, there may never be a true fully automatic commercial plane, as the goal has never been to completely replace the need for pilots. According to the staff at Airbus, their mission is not to “move ahead with autonomy as a target in itself,” but rather “improve flight operations and overall aircraft performance.” The goal is to improve aircraft operation so that a pilot may better focus on “strategic decision-making and mission management.”

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