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Airbus is pushing ahead in tech as it aims for single-pilot planes, says CTO

A Singapore Airlines A380 passenger plane taking off at Changi International Airport in Singapore.

Fyrol Mohn | AFP | Getty Images

European aerospace giant Airbus is working on technologies that will cut the number of pilots needed in the cockpit, a company executive said on Thursday.

“Embedding more and more artificial intelligence into our systems will enable us to start by really relieving the pilots from more mundane tasks, routine tasks — so really to keep the human element in the chain for the strategic thinking and decision-making type of tasks,” said Grazia Vittadini, chief technology officer at Airbus.

That will take the company “on the way to possibly one day achieve the single-pilot operation target we are aiming at,” she told CNBC at the Innovfest Unbound conference in Singapore.

That change to cockpit staffing will solve problems like the shortage of pilots, particularly when growth in aviation is outpacing economic growth, she added.

Ultimately, artificial intelligence will be the differentiating factor that will make planes autonomous, Vittadini said.

As to concerns stemming from fewer pilots on board, Vittadini said Airbus prioritizes safety above all else and will never go for a lower level of safety that what is currently available.

The scenario of planes going fully autonomous will take time — after all, it took 60 years to go from four to two pilots, she noted.

Passengers will be able to adapt to the new technologies, she projected.

“Our grandparents would have never stepped into an elevator without a lift boy. Today, an elevator ride is nothing exciting or of concern to any of us,” said Vittadini.

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