Tuesday, 14 September 2021 08:42

Automation takes to the skies



It’s a well-worn narrative at this stage – taxi drivers (and, if the regulations in your region permit them, Uber drivers) will soon see their numbers decimated by the rise of self-driving cars.

With the financial might of some of the world’s largest tech companies behind automotive automation, it’s frequently affirmed that having a human behind the wheel will slide into obsolescence within the next decade.

Metro trains, with their predictable routes and lack of obstacles, are also seen as ideal candidates for automation. Copenhagen’s city metro already runs unmanned, for example, and it’s not the only one.

But while train drivers and cabbies may lament the rise of the robots, what about airline pilots?

The aviation industry has not seen the same breathless automation coverage as its land-bound peers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great changes underway.

Advances in artificial intelligence mean that planes are increasingly capable of carrying out many of the tasks traditionally performed manually.

This has led to serious talk of shifting to “single-pilot operations” for some flights – the enhanced plane essentially acting as the co-pilot. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is currently evaluating whether the more sophisticated tech means it would be safe to operate flights with reduced cabin crew numbers.

“Since the beginning of commercial aviation, each successive generation of aircraft has become increasingly automated, and this automation has contributed to a step change in efficiency and safety,” an Airbus spokesperson told EURACTIV.

But pilots have deep concerns about the move towards a more automated future. One persistent question – so far unanswered – is what would happen if the lone pilot was to be incapacitated.

“The most important question is whether flying with fewer pilots onboard can be done safely. For the time being, neither the regulators nor the manufacturers have shown this could improve flight safety,” Otjan de Bruijn, president of the European Cockpit Association, told EURACTIV.

Passenger reactions to the move towards self-flying planes remain to be seen.

Read the full story below.


New Italian airline not liable for Alitalia’s debt

The successor to Italy’s debt-ridden Alitalia airline received some good news on Friday – the European Commission decided that Italia Trasporto Aereo (known as ITA) is not liable to repay the €900 million in illegal state aid given to Alitalia in 2017.

Italian authorities worried that the outstanding debt would be transferred to the new company, essentially hobbling it from the outset.

The EU executive also found that Italy’s injection of €1.35 billion into ITA are in line with market conditions, and so do not constitute state aid.

“Italy has demonstrated that there is a clear break between Alitalia and the new airline ITA, and that its investment in ITA is in line with terms that a private investor would have accepted. Once ITA takes off, it is for Italy and ITA’s management to make use of this opportunity once and for all,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition policy chief.

Angered by the foreseen job losses and diminished contracts on offer with ITA, Alitalia workers took to the streets of Rome in protest on Friday.

Livia Spera, general secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation, called the Commission’s decision to give ITA the green light “a slap in the face for Alitalia’s workers”.


Spanish tests find trucks more polluting than expected

The EU has some of the strictest vehicle emissions standards in the world, a major boost to air quality – presuming the standards are adhered to.

However, a new study carried out for the clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment found that almost a third of trucks in Madrid and Barcelona exceeded legal limits for the harmful air pollutant NOX in real-world conditions.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can exacerbate asthma, while prolonged exposure can cause long-term lung damage.

“The EU’s trucking standards are not doing enough to safeguard the air we breathe, putting the health of Europe’s citizens at risk,” said Anna Krajinska, emissions engineer at T&E.

The findings put the focus on the EU’s emissions testing system, which T&E have criticised as inadequate.

But the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) hit back against the claims, arguing that the tests are more robust than T&E indicate.

Get the full story below.


A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Pilots alarmed over Airbus plans for single-pilot aircraft

Improvements in automation technology may soon eliminate the need for a co-pilot in commercial flights, a disruptive development that has already sparked criticism from pilots and cabin crew groups on safety grounds.

A third of trucks surpass air pollution limits in real-world conditions, study finds

Almost one third of trucks driving on Spanish roads surpassed the EU’s legal emission limits for NO2, a harmful air pollutant, a study commissioned by the clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment has found.

Intel to invest up to €80 billion in boosting EU chip capacity

Intel Corp said last week it could invest as much as €80 billion in Europe over the next decade to boost the region’s chip capacity and will open up its semiconductor plant in Ireland for automakers.

German industry gears up for its next lobbying battle: the internal combustion engine

While German carmakers unveiled their latest electric vehicles at the International Motor Show in Munich, the industry associations they are members of have made their position clear: the next German government must fight for the internal combustion engine at EU level.