Airbus tests tech to help if pilots become incapacitated

A350 Airbus DragonFly demonstrator

One of the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturers is conducting real-world tests of technology that would enable automated flying if the pilots became incapacitated.

Dubbed ‘DragonFly’, the project aimed to mimic the dragonfly insect – its phenomenal vision, the ability to see in 360 degrees, and its ability to recognise landmarks.

The aim of the project, run by UpNext, a subsidiary of Airbus, was to enhance flight safety and efficiency.

“During the flight test campaign, the technologies were able to assist pilots in-flight, managing a simulated incapacitated crew member event, and during landing and taxiing operations,” said Isabelle Lacaze, head of the DragonFly demonstrator.

“Taking into account external factors such as flight zones, terrain and weather conditions, the aircraft was able to generate a new flight trajectory plan and communicate with both air traffic control and the airline operations control centre.”

She said the plane would detect if pilots were incapacitated and would then select the most suitable airport for landing.

AI-assisted landing would help in difficult weather or poor visibility with increased sensors, computer vision algorithmics and new guidance computation.

“Automatic landing can be applied at any airport in the world – even if the runway is not equipped with the ground technology to do so.”

Airbus was also developing a pilot taxi assistance application to help manage taxiing at a crowded airport.

Airbus says DragonFly has entered a final three months of testing at its testing facility in Toulouse, France.


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