While FedEx can see a future in which small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) might be involved in air freight, FedEx Chairman and CEO Fred Smith today stopped short of predicting widespread use of UAS at the larger end of the spectrum, declaring that aircrews will likely remain essential to large aircraft operations for a long time.
 
“While we see a logical transition to unmanned, small-freighter aircraft, we believe well-trained aircrews will be required for large commercial, all-cargo aircraft for the foreseeable future for many reasons including sociological concerns, safety and operational flexibility,” Smith said in an address to the International Aviation Club in Washington.
 
The company still is looking to find ways to use advanced technology to boost safety and productivity, Smith said. “We have work under way to explore ground-based supernumeraries to achieve these objectives.”
 
Noting that industry estimates some 500,000 pilots will have to be replaced during the next 20 years, all commercial aviation players, but particularly all-cargo operators, will need to embrace technologies to “enhance our aircrew capabilities,” Smith said.
He said space-based Automated Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and “remote crew augmentation” could both enhance safety and save money.