Why Automation Shouldn’t Push Pilots Out of Air Taxis

As it tries to take to the skies, the urban air mobility industry is at a crossroads. The ultimate goal is unmanned operations, freeing up more seats for paying passengers and eliminating pilot salaries to improve margins on both ends. But, how you get to that point is tough: Do you start with pilots, more akin to traditional helicopter flight, and then phase them out? Or do you go unmanned from the jump, ensuring that the industry you are building resembles your goal, both in terms of technological hurdles and business case?

Industry and agency are both divided, and they may not reach a consensus. Airbus is developing both the piloted CityAirbus project and the Vahana, an unmanned single-seater. While Davis Hackenberg, UAM strategy team leader for NASA, advocates immediately pursuing unmanned operations in the urban air mobility (UAM) industry, members of his team disagree.