Airbus tests pilot assist that can automatically divert flights

The autonomous tech could help if the crew is incapacitated.

Herve Gousse/Master Films

Autonomous transportation assistance isn't limited to cars. Airbus has started testing a pilot assistance feature, DragonFly, that could save an aircraft in an emergency. The system can automatically divert a flight in an emergency. It can not only pick a flight path to the best airport (using factors like airspace rules and weather), but communicate with air traffic control and an airline's operations center. If the pilots are incapacitated, the aircraft can still land safely.

Accordingly, DragonFly can automatically land on any runway using sensors and computer vision algorithms. Pilots can even get help taxiing around airports through technology that translates air traffic control's clearance into usable guidance clues in a companion app. It can assist with speed control and alert pilots to obstacles. Crews can spend more time getting ready for the actual flight.

The testing has so far been limited to one A350-1000 demonstrator aircraft. It could be a while yet before DragonFly reaches production, and regulators (like the Federal Aviation Administration in the US) will need to approve its use.

All the same, this hints at where autonomous flight systems are going. Although completely self-flying airliners might not arrive for a long while, you could see aircraft that require little intervention even in the middle of a crisis. This could also help increase flights to airports with difficult landings (such New Zealand's Wellington Airport) and minimize taxiing-related delays.