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AI in the Cockpit: Why is the pilot of your plane on the ground?

As the face of air travel changes dramatically with the explosion of air traffic over the next two decades, you soon may be wondering why you don’t see your pilot in the cockpit—or on the plane at all.


Indeed, your ‘pilot’ may be rather a supervisor of on-board flight control and communications systems powered by Artificial Intelligence. Or, the ‘pilot’ even may be on the ground, linked to your airplane’s flight management systems via the Cloud where the aircraft and air traffic control are in permanent contact.

In fact, safety in crowded skies requires that the cockpit of tomorrow will need to be a real center of intelligence and connectivity; planes will need to ‘thread the needle’ between twice as many commercial airliners carrying three times as many passengers, in addition to safely navigating many thousands of two-passenger ‘air taxis’ darting in the sky above cities.

AI in the future will provide pilots with the keys to managing complexity—which means assuring safety. Pilots are confronted with many simultaneous situations where they need to make critical decisions. With increasing air traffic, reduced separation between planes and heavier workloads, pilots will have less time to react to events or conditions. These can be anything from changing weather to incidents with engines, hydraulic equipment, landing gear or even a bird striking the aircraft. Artificial intelligence will support pilots in making the right decisions as they have little time to spare.

André Cléroux, Thales ​Avionic Functions Product Line Director

Over time, he adds, increasing use of AI will be the catalyst for the transition to autonomous aircraft, with a first stage of single-pilot systems.

AI in the cockpit: The ‘key enabler’ for the digital transition of aviation

Artificial Intelligence in the cockpit is the key enabler for the digital transition of aviation. That is because of its role in assuring safety in increasingly complex aircraft flying crowded skies, from the way the plane maneuvers to its preventive maintenance. AI in the cockpit is also the key to assuring better routing and precision air traffic management. Linked with tomorrow’s permanent connectivity of the aircraft, Artificial Intelligence in the cockpit will be a critical hub in equally-automated Air Traffic Control.

André Cléroux

He says, “As far as Air Traffic Management is concerned, systems will be entirely automated. This will allow for a real merger between cockpit piloting activities and air traffic control so that there will be permanent dialogue with each other.”

He concludes, “Thales is leading the way for this merger. Our expertise in the four pillars of digital transformation-- Artificial Intelligence, Connectivity, Cybersecurity, and Big Data Analytics—provide solutions across the entire spectrum of air travel, ranging from the intelligent cockpit to cabin systems for passengers, to air traffic management. So we can contribute in a very significant way to the new world of aviation and assure it remains safe and efficient even as it changes dramatically.”

This article is part of a series published for the Farnborough International Airshow in England, 16-22nd July 2018.