A recent report published by UBS suggests that a switch to pilotless commercial flights would not only provide economic benefits but also improve safety. The company’s analysts believe that remotely controlled passenger and cargo planes might appear by 2025.

Here are the benefits that UBS believes airlines could reap:

  1. pilot cost savings for the airlines under UBS coverage – $26 billion

  2. pilot savings for the business jet industry – $3 billion

  3. pilot savings for civil helicopters - $2.1 billion

  4. flight optimisation savings could be significant – over $1 billion (at 1% of global airlines' $133 billion 2016 fuel bill)

  5. lower insurance premiums (safer flights) and pilot training costs – $3 billion/year;

  6. revenue opportunity from increased utilisation rates (cargo and commercial)

In the short term, the largest beneficiaries would be such avionics and communications suppliers as Honeywell, Thales and Rockwell Collins. Aircraft OEMs could potentially increase the appeal of their future aircraft programs.

Boeing is already looking into pilotless aircraft technology, having recently established an avionics groups that will compete with its current suppliers. However, the company has a more conservative outlook regarding the timeframe of pilotless flight coming of age.

“When will we have this capability? The only two things that I know is, one, it’s not going to happen until 2040. And two, I’m wrong. We just don’t know,” Mike Sinnett, VP of product development at Boeing Commercial Aircraft, said during Paris Air Show.

The UBS report also hints to the initial resistance from consumers that is expected once pilotless flights become a reality. A survey of 8000 people conducted by UBS Evidence LAB shows that only 17% of respondents would be willing to embark on an unmanned flight, with 54% stating they would most likely not. However, 30% respondents aged 18-34 said they would be more than willing to take a pilotless flight.