Seven out of ten people say they would be willing to travel in an unpiloted plane at some point in their lifetime, according to a comprehensive new study.
The poll of more than 22,000 people asked for views on autonomous aircraft, and suggested industry efforts to reduce the role and number of onboard pilots could prove fruitful. The survey was conducted by Ansys, a U.S. software firm that is working to provide digital replicas of how planes and cars react in different situations.
While 70% of respondents said they would fly without a pilot in their lifetime, only 58% said they would consider it in the next 10 years. Residual fears about autonomous flight unsurprisingly centered on technology failure but an inability by a computer to react to poor weather or turbulence also raised doubts.
Speaking to CNBC at the Paris International Air Show on Monday, Ansys Chief Technological Officer Prith Banerjee said customers would be more willing to embrace automation if firms could show that a computer would react in the best and quickest way if anything unexpected happens.
He added that the early adoption of autonomous planes would likely still have a pilot on board who could sit in place to assist, oversee, or manually handle the plane during take-off and landing.
"We are facing a 200,000 pilot shortage in the world because large planes need three pilots. If we have an autonomous plane, you can reduce the number to one," he said.
Safer than a bank
Of those surveyed, 39% felt that the computer controlling an autonomous plane would be the hardest to hack into. That figure beat computers handling bank accounts (27%), smartphones (17%) and self-driving cars (12%).
More than 60% of respondents claimed that they would be willing to ride in a flying taxi to and from work.
Younger respondents were more willing to ditch the need for a pilot at some point in their lifetimes, with more than 8 out of 10 trusting the idea of autonomy in the skies.
Among those aged 65 or over the figure dropped sharply to around 45%.
The fieldwork took place between April 26 and May 7 and asked respondents in the United States, United Kingdom, China, India, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Japan and the Benelux countries.