The A350 test aircraft took off with two pilots on board, who were ready to act if needed, but the plane actually took off itself with no intervention from them, using controls powered by artificial intelligence.
The automatic take-off project, named Attol, has been in development for two years, by a team of around 20 Airbus engineers.
As part of the tools, the plane tracks the runway to the nearest millimetre, using a visual reconnaissance program. It can complete, according to Airbus, “autonomous taxiing, take-off, and landing”.
In theory, the system would allow planes to take off on their own, requiring just one pilot at the controls to monitor it, rather than the current norm of two. This could save the industry up to two billion euros, it has been estimated.
The test pilots ensure that their hands are away from the controls as the plane takes off (Image: Airbus)
Passengers appear sceptical: one told public news service FranceInfo: “If I had the choice, I wouldn’t get on a plane [with that system]”, while another said: “It’s not a bad idea...but I’m asking myself if this is a joke.”
For now, the method will only be rolled out for use on cargo planes, rather than commercial passenger jets.
Airbus is owned by European aerospace company EADS, and has its main headquarters in Blagnac, Toulouse (Haute-Garonne, Occitanie).
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France