Pilotless planes could be a $35 billion opportunity that Wall Street is completely missing, UBS says

  • UBS estimates pilotless planes could be a $US35 billion opportunity thanks to cost savings of cutting two pilots.
  • Convincing people to fly on them, though, might be a little more difficult.
  • Luckily, many people say they could be convinced with cheaper fares.

While much of Wall Street is focused on self-driving cars, UBS has moved on to the skies.

The bank estimated this week that pilotless planes could be worth $US35 billion in profit – and says Wall Street is completely missing the potential.

“We estimate moving from two pilots to one in cargo and passenger aeroplanes implies c.$US15 billion profit opportunity, with fully pilotless planes a further c.$ 20 billion,” the bank said. “In our view, the market is not currently pricing in any benefit for airlines or aerospace companies.”

What’s more, the bank says “reduced crew” flights could happen as soon as 2023, depending on how quickly plane makers like Airbus and Thales can convert existing planes to the next-generation cockpit and control systems.

But it won’t be an easy task to convince people to fly in robo-planes. 63% of the respondents to UBS’ survey said they would be unwilling to fly in a pilotless plane. Surprisingly, that number is up from 54% last year, and UBS says it will be the biggest hurdle to full rollout of autonomous planes.

Luckily, if there’s one thing consumers love, it’s a good deal. The bank says airlines could help people overcome their trepidation through smart pricing.

“Through lower pricing, 55% of respondents could be induced to fly on a single-pilot aeroplane vs. a regular flight with the standard number of pilots today,” UBS said. “This is slightly more encouraging than the attitude of respondents towards pilotless planes, which remains sceptical, with 63% indicating they are unlikely to fly in a pilotless plane and 57% unlikely to change their mind at any price.”

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