The co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics explains how aircraft automation sets the path to bringing certified autonomous vehicles to commercial aviation. In the news, the first graduating class from United Aviate Academy, the NTSB and BEA comment on the Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau’s final report on the 737 Max crash, pilots working to make their airport safer, the government wants to know if the Southwest meltdown was caused by unrealistic scheduling, and ADS-B Exchange purchase by Jetnet.
Robert Rose is the co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics, a company that seeks to bring certified autonomous vehicles to commercial aviation. Their vision is to leverage aircraft automation to transform the way we move goods and people around the planet with safer, more convenient, and more affordable air transportation. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and has a distributed global workforce.
Robert explains how incremental safety enhancements can lead to the long-term goal of remotely piloted aircraft. Reliable Robotics is developing a higher precision navigation system, followed by the capability for auto-land without airport infrastructure. From there, an auto-takeoff capability that includes takeoff rejection, and auto-taxi. Altogether, these significantly impact the safety of GA aircraft
Admitting that fully autonomous aircraft are not a near-term possibility, Robert says that aircraft automation takes us down the path to autonomous operation.
He sees certification in three phases:
- Certification of a continuous engagement autopilot for the Cessna Caravan.
- Certifying the management of contingencies outside the system’s control.
- Certifying detect and avoid and the communication system with the pilot in a control center.
Robert’s engineering experience spans aerospace, self-driving cars, robotics, gaming, and consumer products. Prior to co-founding Reliable Robotics, he was the Director of Flight Software at SpaceX where he led the development of the onboard flight software for the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft, resulting in the first commercial mission to the International Space Station. At Tesla, Robert was the Senior Director of Autopilot, Robert brought to market the first consumer automobile with fully unassisted self-driving capability. At X (Google’s skunkworks division), Robert led a team bringing advanced machine perception and manipulation technologies to large vehicles.
Earlier in his career, he developed three Game of the Year award-winning titles as a Game Engine Programmer at Sony PlayStation. Robert holds a B.S. in Computer Science, a B.S. in Computer Engineering, and an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Oregon State University.
United Aviate Academy graduated the first 51 student pilots out of what United hopes will be 5,000 by 2030. United is the only major U.S. airline to own a flight school. Nearly 80% of this inaugural graduating class is made up of women or people of color. The airline hopes that at least half of the graduates will be women or people of color. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says only 5.6% of pilots are women and 6% are people of color.
What’s next for the graduates?
- Some will work as Certified Flight Instructors at the academy and build their hours toward 1,500 required flying hours
- Others will build hours at participating flight schools or universities, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Purdue University and Hampton University.
- Graduates are encouraged to eventually fly for a United Express carrier, take on leadership roles at an Aviate participating Part 135 operator, or become a Fleet Technical Instructor at United to complete their training.
- Aviate participants can expect to become a United pilot within about six years of graduating from United Aviate Academy.
The Ethiopian Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (EAIB) final report focuses on system failures, not the actions (or inactions) of the pilots. The NTSB and BEA believe the failure of the pilots to execute proper procedures was a contributing factor. Comments made by NTSB and BEA to that effect were not included in the EAIB final report. NTSB and BEA have gone on record to express their belief that the final report is deficient in this respect.
- NTSB disagrees with final report on Ethiopian ET302
- U.S. safety experts dispute aspects of Ethiopia 737-MAX air crash findings
- Ethiopian ET302 final report released, NTSB and BEA issue comments
- NTSB Releases Comments on Ethiopia’s Investigation of the Boeing 737-8 Max Accident
- US Comments on Draft Aircraft Accident Investigation Report, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Boeing 737-8 MAX, ET-AVJ, Ejere, Ethiopia, March 10, 2019 [PDF]
- NTSB Publishes Additional Comments on Ethiopia’s Final Report on 737 MAX 8 Accident
- National Transportation Safety Board, Response to Final Aircraft Accident Investigation Report, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Boeing 737-8 MAX, ET-AVJ, Ejere, Ethiopia, March 10, 2019. [PDF]
- Ethiopia’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (EAIB) final report [PDF]
Boeing pleaded not guilty to felony fraud in the recent arraignment in federal court. The families asked Judge O’Connor to impose certain conditions on Boeing as a condition of release, including appointing an independent monitor to oversee Boeing’s compliance with the terms of the previous deferred prosecution agreement, and that the company’s compliance efforts “be made public to the fullest extent possible.” Boeing and the Justice Department opposed the request and the judge did not rule on those at the time.
The Aspen Airport (KASE) has been regarded as a dangerous airport. The Aspen Times called it “the most dangerous [airport] in the United States.” A number of jet and piston accidents have occurred there, some fatal. In December 2022, the formation of the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport FlightOps Safety Task Force was announced. The task force includes a dozen volunteer pilots
Transportation Department looking into whether ‘unrealistic scheduling’ played role in Southwest holiday meltdown
A Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson said, “DOT is in the initial phase of a rigorous and comprehensive investigation into Southwest Airlines’ holiday debacle that stranded millions … [and] probing whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic scheduling of flights which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice.”
“In a …filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, [Southwest Airlines] estimated pretax losses from the disruption of $725 million to $825 million for the quarter. Of that, it expects to lose $400 million to $425 million in revenue directly from the flight cancellations.”
ADS-B Exchange was purchased by Jetnet, which Silversmith Capital Partners own. Some people are expressing outrage and worry that ADS-B Exchange will lose its openness. Founder and president of ADS-B Exchange Dan Streufert was our guest in Episode 692.
Australia News Desk
This week we take a look across the Tasman Sea as New Zealand’s capital, Auckland, was hit with historic levels of flooding, leading to the temporary closure of their International Airport, leaving passengers from all corners of the globe stranded for many hours in the terminal, and saw a number of inbound flights diverted.
Steve’s a little tired after being recertified as an instructor…not for airplanes…but for trains. We discuss the similarities in approaches to training between rail and aviation, including one of Steve’s more interesting sim sessions.
Meanwhile, Grant’s literally over the moon following Saber Astronautics’ plans to send Australian tech to the International Space Station in coming years, including beer in a specially made zero-G bottle.
Flights were temporarily halted in and out of Sydney Airport this weekend when the control tower had to be evacuated following the smell of gaseous fumes in the ventilation system.
And finally, we pay tribute to local aviation photographer Matt Savage, of Mach One Aeromedia, who passed away recently after a long battle with illness. Matt was a man who shared our passion for aviation and was a big supporter of our work. Though he left us way too soon, his skill with the lens will live on as a lasting legacy for all of us to enjoy.
Air Traffic Out Of Control podcast.
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Hosts this Episode
Max Flight, Rob Mark, Max Trescott, and David Vanderhoof. With contributions by Grant McHerron and Steve Vischer.