Back to Squawk list
  • 22

Merlin Labs wants to fill the sky with pilotless planes carrying cargo and passengers

Autonomous flight startup Merlin Labs is coming out of stealth mode to announce that it’s raised $25 million in funding from Google Ventures and First Round Capital. The company has also struck a deal with aviation services contractor Dynamic Aviation to begin putting its pilotless plane technology into commercial operation. ( More...

Sort type: [Top] [Newest]

C172Rpilot 9
What could possibly go wrong!
Nothing here to go wrong, nothing here to go wrong, nothing here to go wrong,....pop!
ADXbear 14
There out of their minds... as a pilot there's no replacing the human factors during emergency situations..

Ask any person on the planet if there comfortable not having anyone up front! Just how are airlines going to sell this, and how will they justify the extreme liability..,next thing will be getting Flight simmers doing the flights.. stupid.
John Wilder 3
Potential passengers will fly on pilotless aircraft if the price is right. We all know that passengers highest priority is not safety, it’s ticket price.
Not according to polls. Yes, airline management would love to cut out the most important factor in safety (the pilots) if it will improve the bottom line. But they aren’t pursuing that yet because they read the polls too. Only a small percentage of passengers say they would fly on a pilotless plane.
SkyAware123 1
Might be safer than with a pilot. After all, aren't most incidents caused by human error?
Peter McGrath 3
That's what the airlines and FAA want everyone to believe because it saves on lawsuits against them. I do believe that your comment was sarcasm though, right?
jbermo 0
Convey such sentiment to the ghostly souls of PK-8303, Atlas Air Flight 3591, Germanwings Flight 9525, Asiana OZ214, Colgan Air Flight 3407, Ethiopian Flight 302, AAL 587, AF 447, Aeroflot 1492, plus others.
Flawed logic. You’re saying that because there is such a thing as pilot error, pilotless airplanes are a good idea? You must not be a pilot. As an airline pilot, I can tell you that the automation would have killed passengers countless times if one of the two pilots hadn’t caught the error first. It’s impossible to quantify the lives “saved” by pilots on flights that experienced imperfect automation. It’s probably in the hundreds of thousands, per year.
SkyAware123 2
That's because the automation is build with overrides in mind to avoid such things. These autonomous planes won't have that except for some fallback modes to a remote operator. I think this will be a lot safer.
jbermo 5
Airfreight is where it all will start - sort of "The camel's nose under the tent".
jptq63 5
Just one electrical failure (no alternator and battery failure) will likely make a bad day....
SkyAware123 1
because a pilot can fix an electrical failure ? no. They can make other choices which a computer can too, or ultimately fallback on a some remote operator.
ok..yikes! even the star ship enterprise had a captain!i do not think aviation has evolved enough to send aircraft out without a human in the cockpit..i dont think people will accept that idea either...
Great analogy
daniel montie 8
Speaking as a professional avionics tech, you will NEVER find me sitting in an aircraft that doesn't have someone just as interested in how the flight ends as I am up front.

The concept of me risking my life while shareholders only risk dividends from reduced crew costs makes me want to vomit.

Software is only as good as the imagination of three people: who wrote the request for the software, who wrote the software, and who tested the software.

Unfortunately, those weaknesses are NEVER self-cancelling - they are always cumulative. Worst of all, they are all subject to bean counters.
Tom Bruce 4
opt out!
Anton Borys 3
Get them to test fly the fans with an electrician along. A.Borys
Steve Young 5
It will be a long time before passengers will accept a pilotless aircraft. As a former member of the ATSB (Australia’s NTSB equivalent) there are ‘incidents’ where pilot intervention was imperative - two that come to mind are QF32 and QF72 (search No amount of ground based operation would have been able to manage a controlled landing without human intervention (ie pilot) on board the aircraft.
jbermo 4
Perhaps it can be argued then that the pro-human involvement of QF32 and QF72 could be countered with the adverse human involvement of PK-8303, Atlas Air Flight 3591, Germanwings Flight 9525, Asiana OZ214, Colgan Air Flight 3407, Ethiopian Flight 302 (perhaps that one is a tie) AAL 587, AF 447, UPS 1354, Aeroflot 1492 . . .aw heck the list goes on and on.
daniel montie 1
You list several incidents of human failure. Which is why all aircraft should have MORE crew, not less. A third pilot, thus ensuring constantly having two crew at all times, would have eliminated most, if not all, of the events you state.

But, that's not the way bean counters, greedy CEO's, or shareholders want to do things. Even mentioning more crew makes them scream in panic.

But it would be the best solution.
Susan Wener 2
Or perhaps 2 human pilots and 3CPO? AI is the future so I am told...
J Baer 2
It’s been done already. Here you go:
R C 2
cakeckh 2
Imagine the new preflight safety message : In the event of a software failure, we will request any passenger with flight training to take command ....while the remaining passengers brace for a sudden impact....
cakeckh 2
And just hope Microsoft isn't the operating system.
wiztom 2
Todays forecast; partly cloudy with falling aircraft...
F. M. 4
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), as originally designed, was driverless, but unions objected and, to this day, BART has "drivers" that essentially do nothing but sit around and collect their paychecks.

Does anybody think that the pilot unions are going to sit by and just let the concept of pilotless planes get a foothold?
There’s a night and day difference between a driverless train on rails connected to the ground and an airliner with no pilot.
David Loh 1
As safe as tesla cars with brain dead drivers.
They should be the only passengers for the first 5 years of testing.
MrTommy 1
People do not want to drive on the highway with driverless trucks. I can't imagine flying on pilotless planes.
Jim Smirh 1
This is what will "sell" this kind of technology: Merlin Labs CEO Matt George said: " be able to go and take that airplane and fly it totally unmanned, but then also on larger aircraft to be able to reduce crew." Basic Capitalism (greed); lower costs, raise profits. Still tiring to hear "freight vs people". Freight or people, same rules. Pilots don't like dying any more than passengers. :rolleyes:
rbt schaffer 1
Don't like these 'things'... Won't be long before one 'attaches' itself to a passenger plane and there are real fatalities...
D Rotten 1
What could POSSIBLY go WRONG here?!?!?!?! #YouCantFixStupid
I don't even want self-driving cars much less airplanes. Politicians can be bought like they are now, but I believe that public pressure will prevent this, or at least I hope so.
Anton Borys 1
The wonderful era of flying is gone...You now fly rockets.
cakeckh 1
Pilotless planes and solar powered aircraft - both are surefire ways to keep people from flying.
Sheena Miller 1
Never say never...all I have to say
Sheena Miller 1
The ket>Merlin envisions the role of its remote pilots as supervisory, monitoring dozens of aircraft in the sky at once, but leaving the vast majority of the tasks, from communication with air traffic control to navigation, to the autonomous software.
Peter McGrath 1
This is great! Read the article about the psycho Southwest patron that punched the flight attendant. Imagine trying to tell the "autonomous captain" to call ahead for the police or to land immediately? The FAA won't let you fly a drone but the fact that they're even considering having nobody in the cockpit flying scares the crap out of me!
Alan Perry 1
Uh, who are they going to get to fly in these things??? We've got some idiot running around the Bay Area in the back seat of a Tesla recently... and I don't want to be on the same highway with him... at 38,000 feet? NO WAY!
Rick Hoffman 1
Yah a computer does not care if it goes down in flames. I'll never fly on one even for free.
Mike Taylor 1
The scary thing is that this Matt George really doesn't understand that the FAA's ground radar does NOT see everything in the air throughout the US. Without cooperative aircraft transponders the basic FAA search radar is a pretty poor tracker of aircraft since the "skin paint" is not a given and has some serious range and altitude limitations with plenty of holes. In addition, not every aircraft is required to have a transponder. You can still hit something you didn't "see".
Tobias Heller 1
What happens when someone figures out how to hack pilotless aircraft? They could divert it to somewhere else and steal the freight, kidnap the pax, or just use it as a kamikaze and point it at someone's house. New mass murder weapon.

The cockpit is already highly automated. Even some light aircraft (TBM 940, Piper M600, Vision Jet) can land themselves. Automation that helps when pilots are incapacitated or hypoxic is good. Automation also fails, and humans need to be there to take control. It would be irresponsible to only let the automation have control.
AAaviator 1
They can beta test the plane by using it to deport illegal aliens who've been convicted of human trafficking, child rape, murder and violent felonies.
dj horton 1
I have a suspicion this is enviable. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon there will be generations of children that know nothing other than completely automatous cars and trucks on the road. The kinks will have been worked out long before they were ever born and will prove to be reliable and safe. The next logical step is commercial flight.
uapilot 0
And then there are the new “kinks” that appear year by year that cannot be predicted or imagined by code writers in windowless basement cubicles as they text amongst themselves debating what social intercourse with actual non-virtual humans is really like!
Here’s a thought…what caused the 737MAX issue? I understand it was piss poor software and therefore horribly bad coding! I’ve also learned that the Boeing software was outsourced as Boeing basically eliminated its in-house dept usually responsible for its software and layed off most of its software engineers/coders. It was a cost reducing measure. Hmmmmmmm I know…..let’s put innocent lives into the mix as passengers are always the last to know what they are getting themselves into. Boeing, Lion and Ethiopian were clearly transparent.
dj horton 2
The MAX issue was caused by a multitude of factors, and yes software was one of them, but not the only one. But most notably was the lack of regulatory oversight - Boeing bullied the FAA into self-certifying the MAX. Love the feds, hate the feds, doesn’t really matter. A third-party testing/audit/review BY PEOPLE THAT KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING (probably not the feds) would have likely exposed the flaw(s) in the MAX.

Throughout history skeptics have said you can’t do this and you can’t do that in aviation, and time and time again, pretty smart people have proved them wrong. Fully automated air travel is coming. In my lifetime or in the lifetime of anyone in this forum? Hard to say. My crystal ball is fuzzy.
user3956 1
There is some dispute about exactly which software functions were outsourced but I think you're dead on (discussions of the total number of sensors required aside). Business guys patting themselves on the back for making genius business decisions aka, cutting the engineering expertise out of a business that requires... a high engineering aptitude to you know... keep planes from falling out of the sky etc. What I REALLY want to know is how much money they saved by doing that when you figure in the payouts to the crash victims' families along with the loss of business and hit to their storied reputation. Like, was it worth it you genius business guys?
patrick baker -2
for clarification sake: i will not be firing on pilotless aircraft or drones with passengers on them.
patrick baker -9
i hope the FAA mandates thesel aerial pest drones stay below 500 feet AGL, so i can use them for practice for duck hunting season, as they fly mindlessly about the countryside. Some fellows will get holes in their new underwear, same with some ladies.
ADXbear 5
The part 107 rules spell out drone ops, they must stay below 400'
Shooting ducks with a 4 gauge? Tough on the shoulder! Anything smaller doesn't have the range.


Don't have an account? Register now (free) for customized features, flight alerts, and more!
This website uses cookies. By using and further navigating this website, you accept this.
Did you know that FlightAware flight tracking is supported by advertising?
You can help us keep FlightAware free by allowing ads from We work hard to keep our advertising relevant and unobtrusive to create a great experience. It's quick and easy to whitelist ads on FlightAware or please consider our premium accounts.