Back in January Airbus completed first Autonomous Taxi, Take-Off and Landing (ATTOL) Project using Airbus A350-1000. The project included Auto Taxi, takeoff and landing feature by the airplane itself. The Autonomous Flight project initiated back in 2018 by Airbus’s goal to make flight more Autonomous and increase safety. Airbus has other four projects named fello’fly, CONNECT, Disruptive Cockpit (DISCO) and Wayfinder.
Most of the airliners these days can fly and also land on its own. The Auto Pilot feature is the one that controls the flight while cruising. Instrument Landing System (ILS) guides the Airplane to land itself. For a long time these feature are added in most of the new airplanes. But no airplane is designed to taxi and takeoff by itself until now.
Auto Landing and Auto pilot feature are based on airplane’s sensors and data. The Computer analyzes Airspeed, altitude angle of attack etc. and airplane’s autopilot feature manages to perform the tasks input by the pilot. These features are more focused on performing certain task as the computer is programmed to do so. The Algorithms used in those tasks are purely based on sensor data and Pilot’s input.
How ATTOL works
The ATTOL is a bit different than Auto Pilot. ATTOL works similarly as the Auto-Pilot feature of Tesla cars. The cameras installed on airplane captures the runway, taxiway markings and lines up the aircraft according to the center line. It also detects any unidentified objects or barriers which are present on aircrafts line of sight. AI with Image Processing helps to guide the aircraft while taxiing and taking off. While taking off after required V1 speed (The speed after where airplane can takeoff safely) the aircraft itself lifts up the nose and gets airborne without any intervention by the Pilots.
Why we need Autonomous Flight?
Doing a pilot’s job is never easy. Even a small wrong decision can turn to be fatal anytime. So Pilots are highly trained and must comply all the requirements laid out by the airline company. A tired or sleepy or unhealthy pilot may give poor decision and cause the airplane to behave different. Also they are fed with lot of information especially during critical phase of flying (takeoff and landing). So they are not allowed to talk anything unusual except flight part. Feeding so much information can cause pilots to disregard some more vital information and focus on certain part forgetting key points.
There has been several accidents and incidents where pilots are so busy in problem solving that they could not focus on what ATC said to them. The Autonomous feature not only helps pilot to relieve this burden but also they can focus on other things like outdoor environment, proper judgement and decision making, leaving handling of the aircraft to automation.
Is Autonomous Flight safe?
Aircrafts are improved after each generation to make air travel safe, fast, and efficient at the same time. No. 1 priority is always safety. The new feature increases safety. Since almost all paved runway where airlines operate has proper markings and follow ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standard, recognizing those marks by airplanes computer are easier. The feature may not work on runways where those marking lines are not clear enough to detect by the computer.
No need of Pilots in future?
Although new technologies are added to the aircraft, replacing pilots is not possible for now or in near future. Pilots are essential especially in major decision making during unwanted incidents on the flight. No system can give good solution than a human as the system is also a man-made device. But Airbus will also focus on unmanned airplane technologies in future. Its upcoming project include single pilot cabin configuration.
Future Airbus Tests
Fello’fly: It is basically a flying pattern aiming to improve efficiency of flights by collaborative activity of the airplanes following certain waypoints toward its destination.
CONNECT is another project to enhance multi crew operation to organize cockpit during flights.
Disruptive Cockpit (DISCO) is designed to make single pilot cabin configuration.
Wayfinder : A project for autonomous scalable self-piloted aircraft. It will not include any pilot and will fly itself on its own to destination.