Coming Soon: Robots in the Cockpit

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

January 26, 2015

In commercial aviation’s earlier days, the flight deck had a captain, copilot and a navigator. On longer flights, a second crew would be on board to take over once the original crew had reached its maximum hours. Going back even further in aviation history, nurses or other medical attendants were paid airline employees whose presence gave comfort to jittery passengers.

The copilot may soon be out of the picture

Soon, the position of copilot may become another in the growing list of lost American jobs. Aurora Flight Sciences recently was awarded a $6 million grant to develop an automated “cockpit assistant,” a robot who will help the pilot command the flight.

Jessica Duda, Aurora's Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System representative said, “The ability to reassign cockpit roles, allowing humans to perform tasks best suited to humans and automation to perform tasks best suited to automation, represents a potential paradigm shift compared to how flight operations are currently conducted.”

Maybe, but that's one less working American. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in 2012 for commercial pilots was $98,410, but the industry expects to hire 800 fewer professionals by 2022. Between robots and President Obama's executive action that will put 5 million unlawful immigrants to work, little wonder that the American middle class is vanishing.

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