The Driverless Commute: Finally out of dark days of early 2000s, do airlines need to be scared of AV disruption threat?; Florida OKs fully self-driving cars; and the long list of new tie-ups and break-ups

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1. Disruption

The years that followed the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were uniquely challenging for airlines, but consolidation, cheap fuel and savvy management (not to mention taxpayer bailouts) finally delivered some much-need ballast to the industry only within the last decade.

Now, with profits finally stabilized, new problems are on the horizon.

Fresh research out of Embry-Riddle, the world’s largest aviation and aerospace university, finds that travelers’ appetite for the increasing ordeal of air travel, in particular short-haul travel, is threatened by the convenience of automotive autonomy.

In the study, researchers submitted trips of different lengths and asked respondents whether they would drive themselves, take a flight or ride in a self-driving car. In one scenario, they asked travelers their preference for a trip from Kansas City to Chicago.

  • By air, the trip is roughly five hours. In a car and in normal road conditions, the travel time increases by 2 hours.
  • Two thirds of respondents indicated they would prefer to fly commercial if they had to drive manually.
  • Only 45 percent preferred commercial air travel when given the option of traveling by driverless car. That’s a 17-point drop.
  • When respondents were told they would need a car during their stay in Chicago, the percent of travelers who still preferred commercial air travel fell even lower, to 32 percent.

Our question: what happens to those numbers when it’s a family that’s making the trip or even a longer haul?

Consumers favoring alternative modes of travel for short-haul trips plainly spells trouble for the airline industry, but the cascading effect—that is, travelers using driverless cars to short-circuit connecting air travel by driving to a hub airport rather than flying the first leg—could portend even more profound consequences for the industry’s fragile economics.

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2. Trend-spotting

Sun-dappled Florida became the fourth US state this week to abandon the requirement that companies testing autonomous vehicles must retain a human safety driver behind the wheel to meet road-faring obligations.

In a new framework due to take effect next month, autonomous vehicles must include visual and auditory systems to alert passengers to critical system failures and must further develop systems for fully driverless cars to achieve minimal risk conditions (that is, safely pull over and activate hazards).

The new rules don’t require that autonomous driving systems be tested, inspected, or certified by state officials before deploying, but requires that commercial and private owners of autonomous vehicles have a minimum of $1 million for death, bodily injury or property damage coverage.

You can expect a wave of other states to follow suit, especially those with temperate climates that lend themselves to autonomous testing.

3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn

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