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Is the helicopter pilot a dying breed?

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First let me start by saying I'm not a helicopter pilot, but I've always wanted to be. In the next 6-12 months I'll finally be able to begin training, however I have some serious concerns about the future of the industry.


Self driving cars and trucks are soon to become more and more prolific. Tesla will begin rolling out self driving taxis within the next 12 months which will make regular taxis and rideshares like uber obsolete and the trucking industry is right behind them. Commercial airlines can basically fly themselves, and the military has had both remotely controlled and autonomous drones for years. As a truck driver myself, I am forced to realize I need a backup plan, and that makes me wonder if spending 90 grand to realize my dream of becoming a helicopter pilot is a wise decision given current events? How long till those tiny camera equipped quad-copters are scaled up and replace the man in the cockpit as the "safer more economical alternative"?


You guys are the boots on the ground, the people with first hand knowledge, what do you think? If you had to do it all over again in today's world, would you? Are any of you veteran pilots already making sure you have a plan B? Or am I completely off base and there's nothing to worry about?

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As a truck driver myself I'm not concerned in the slightest about my job being taken by a self driving truck,...though I'm a city driver, not long haul.


As a helicopter pilot I couldn't really give a sh*t.


,...'course I'm 47 and will most likely be dead before the robots take over anyway :)

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...Tesla will begin rolling out self driving taxis within the next 12 months which will make regular taxis and rideshares like uber obsolete and the trucking industry is right behind them.....

Tesla is going to go under. Layoffs, closings, never made profit, stock tanking, Panasonic may be pulling out, doesn't meet targets, losing subsidies, hard to find replacement parts to maintain... too long a list.

Edited by klas
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  • 2 weeks later...

This is a reasonable question, and also one that nobody can answer definitively... but here are my thoughts:


For you specifically, I think there are really two things you need to answer: 1) what type of flying do you want to do, and 2) how long do you expect to do it?


Given a long enough timeline, I believe that many (most?) vehicles of all types will operate autonomously or be controlled remotely. That said, my feeling is that it's still a pretty long road to that point.


A few points for computers:


- Salaries/benefits are the largest expense for many companies. Pilots also complain a lot. They are motivated to get us out of their cockpits.


- Further to that point, airlines facing a pilot shortage are almost certainly developing technologies and political lobbying efforts that will eventually trickle down and/or benefit rotary wing operators.


- Computers with advanced algorithms (and eventually AI) will make optimal decisions more consistently than me when I've had either too little or too much coffee.


- A suite of advanced sensors will build and maintain situational awareness and process environmental changes and other information extremely quickly. My Mk 1 Mod 0 eyeballs and years of experience will not be able to compete.


A few points for pilots (during our lifetimes, at least):


- Retrofitting current ships and/or building new ones will be extremely expensive - even though it's a long term investment, it may be prohibitively expensive for many (smaller) companies in the short run.


- I don't think the public or FAA are ready for passenger aircraft without pilots. I imagine that it would make sense to move pilots out of non-pax sectors of the industry first. Some VERTREP, utility, ag, weather choppers, etc, would seem to be the obvious first steps. Then maybe multi-piloted aircraft will be come single-piloted, then pilots will be replaced with ground-based controllers/observers... Who knows? A lot of it may also depend on the success or failure and public acceptance of autonomous cars and trucks.


- Even though many autonomous or remotely controlled vehicles are perfectly capable of flying, operating in the national air space is a separate issue. Having shared airspace with UAVs both large and small, I can say that is very disconcerting to know that there are other aircraft in the vicinity with no sophisticated capability (yet) to see and avoid. That will have to be addressed satisfactorily and it will take some time.


- Security will also be a huge issue. All computers are susceptible to being hacked - this will be a serious concern if they also happen to be controlling an aircraft in flight at the time.


None of the obstacles that I can see (and I'm sure there are many more) are insurmountable - I think that eventually all of those bridges will be crossed. But I also think that if you want to get paid to fly helicopters, there is still time.

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