Pilot shortage is the 21st century horse manure crisis?

“The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894”:

By the late 1800s, large cities all around the world were “drowning in horse manure”. In order for these cities to function, they were dependent on thousands of horses for the transport of both people and goods.

In 1900, there were over 11,000 hansom cabs on the streets of London alone. There were also several thousand horse-drawn buses, each needing 12 horses per day, making a staggering total of over 50,000 horses transporting people around the city each day.

This problem came to a head when in 1894, The Times newspaper predicted… “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”

Recently pilots have been in the news for reasons other than screwing up: there aren’t enough pilots to meet expected global demand.

A 50-page report from UBS, however, says “UBS analysis of the Aerospace, Airlines and Logistics sectors suggests that reducing the intervention of human pilots on aircraft could bring material economic benefits and improve safety. Technically speaking, remotely controlled planes carrying passengers and cargo could appear by c2025.”

UBS acknowledges that what can be built by engineers might not be approved by government bureaucrats: “The regulatory framework will define the waves of technology advancements becoming reality and cargo will likely be at the forefront” and “The technology is there; two main obstacles are regulation and perception.”

Back in 2008, I wrote about a ground-based co-pilot who could bring airline safety to private operations. UBS talks about this too: “in the not-too-distant future, we would expect to see a situation where flights are pilotless or the number of pilots shrinks to one, with a remote pilot based on the ground and highly-secure ground-to-air communications.” This would dramatically cut the need for pilots per flight because a ground-based pilot could monitor 4-8 in-flight aircraft as long as they’re not all taking off or landing at once.

Readers: What do you think? Despite the current favorable outlook, will pilots circa 2030 actually find themselves in the same employment situation as draft horses circa 1920? (see unemployed = 21st century draft horse?)


  • ADS-B, technically feasible in 1995 and we’re hoping to have it mostly implemented by 2020.


  1. superMike

    August 9, 2017 @ 1:33 pm


    Given that they seem to only pay them a pittance for the increasingly popular regional flights, I’d rather there be a couple pilots on board with a little skin in the game when I fly. (Of course, if they were well supported by ground staff and AI, all the better)
    As far as the regulatory part: I remind you that railroad employees still have their own set of labor law and retirement system.

  2. Anonymous

    August 9, 2017 @ 1:38 pm


    Remotely controlled? Why not fully automatic? It could be harder to control large aircraft from ground than from cockpit.

  3. the other Donald

    August 10, 2017 @ 8:13 pm


    Airline labor law is based on railroad law.

  4. Keith Garfield

    August 13, 2017 @ 12:12 am


    It is unfortunate to see the internet myth of the horse manure crisis perpetuated on a Harvard site. It is a false story, and adds nothing to the main discussion of pilot-less aircraft.

    “The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894” was invented by Stephen Davies in an article posted on fee.org in Sept, 2004  https://fee.org/articles/the-great-horse…]. He claims an 1894 crisis, and that the world’s first international urban planning conference failed in 1898, and that the Times predicted that streets would be buried in manure.

    Multiple sources list America’s first urban planning conference as the First National Conference on City Planning, held May 21-22, 1909, in Washington, DC. Proceedings can be found online  https://archive.org/details/proceedingso…]. Britain’s first urban planning conference was the Town Planning Conference, held October 10-15, 1910, in London []. Transactions can be found online  https://archive.org/details/transactions…]. Neither the Proceedings nor the transactions mention an 1898 conference, nor do they discuss manure as a problem. No such records can be found for the alleged 1898 conference.

    In fact no internet references to any 1894 crisis, Times quote, or 1898 conference can be found if you set your search engine dates prior to Sep 2004. The stories were introduced by Davies. Searching the New York Times archives online yields no results relevant to an alleged crisis or conference for 1894 or 1898  http://www.nytimes.com/search/].

    Similarly, the alleged Times quote has no date, no attributed author, and is simply an unverifiable claim introduced by Davies in 2004.

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