Automated Air Traffic Control System Enables Fewer Pilots, Flying Cars

Changi Airport Air Traffic Control

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glueRamil Sagum, via Wikimedia Commons

For the FAA, it's not the flying that keeps regular joes out of the sky. It's the landing and the navigating. Dealing with air traffic control is so attention consuming and complex that large planes require multiple crewmen, and single-pilot planes have significant restrictions and where and when they can fly.

However, a new flight management system (FMS) created by GE may automate so much of the navigation and landing that commercial flights could use only a single pilot, and the rest of us could get cleared to use flying cars.

The system, originally developed to operate military UAVs, recently began trials in the US. In the tests, GE operators give flight control instructions to the pilot, who then inputs the instructions into a computer, rather than adjusting the flight of the plane with joysticks and throttles. So far, the computer controlled plane has navigated air traffic situations more deftly than a human pilot could ever manage.

Eventually, air traffic controllers on the ground will input the instructions directly into the computer, freeing the pilot of nearly every task other than keeping the plane level and on time.

With so many difficult aspects of flying relegated to the computer, the skills needed to pilot an aircraft drop significantly. With fewer, and less difficult, tasks needed for flight, this FMS could lower the bar for safe flying to the point where it would require no more training than teenagers currently undergo in drivers ed.