Is it really just science fiction? Millennials are ready to embrace autonomous air travel

17 July, 2019

There is a clear generational divide when it comes to the subject of autonomous air travel. The older you get the more entrenched the idea remains in the science fiction movies of youth, but for the younger generations it is not such a far fetched possibility and a simple extension of the already advancing technological age.

New research from ANSYS, a global provider of engineering simulation, shows that almost three quarters of us are ready to fly in autonomous aircraft in our lifetime, but for around half that is not an option for at least another decade.

While, as an average 70% of us are now ready to fly in an autonomous aircraft, younger consumers are more willing to embrace the technological change and fly autonomous - 83% of 18-24-year-olds are willing to fly in an autonomous plane in their lifetimes, compared to just 45% of those over 65.

Aerospace and new technology manufacturers are under immense pressure to deliver the next era of air travel, but proving autonomous aircraft are safe and reliable is critical to securing public acceptance. This research certainly affords a positive reception to the developments, even if it doesn’t provide immediate backing - only 58% are willing to board a self-flying plane in the next decade with 12% insist on waiting longer than ten years.

The observations are from the comprehensive Global Autonomous Vehicle Study global consumer survey, completed for ANSYS by Atomik Research. It comprises an online survey of over 22,000 adults across 11 markets (the United Kingdom, United States, DACH (combining Germany, Austria and Switzerland), France, Italy, Spain, Benelux, Sweden, Japan, China and India) and provides some interesting insights into consumer expectations and concerns with self-flying aircraft.

When asked to select their greatest concerns with autonomous flights, respondents said they were most concerned with technology failure (65%) and autopilot responding to external conditions, such as bad weather and turbulence (57%). More than seven in ten (71%) had no fears about a safe take-off, and three quarters (76%) were unconcerned with an autonomous landing.

This apparent comfortability with the most dangerous stages of flight suggest that simple education may further help understanding. When questioned only 7% of respondents realised the extent to which current commercial aircraft are autonomous. When respondents were informed that only the first and last 10 minutes of their most recent flight were likely controlled by a pilot and the rest was autonomous, 36% said that they would feel much safer in a fully autonomous aeroplane.

Safety concerns extend beyond just operational elements but into security. Of those surveyed, 39% believe that an autonomous plane is the hardest technology system to hack, compared to bank accounts (27%), smartphones (17%), computers (14%) and self-driving cars (12%).

Eric Bantegnie, vice president and general manager of the ANSYS systems business unit dsecribes the findings of the research as “encouraging for the entire aerospace industry” and highlights that people “are ready for a new era of air travel".

The industry is making great strides into autonomous flight and the first aircraft are likely to arrive and enter service within the next decade, targeting both intra-city and inter-city travel, primarily used in air freight and air taxi business models. It is unlikely to become mainstream in commercial flying for some time albeit a gradual move to a single pilot operation could bring significant benefits and ease the move to fully autonomous operations.