Enabling the mass adoption of autonomous driving

Lessons from the aviation industry


Executive summary

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology promises tremendous gains in terms of transport efficiency, safety, and an improved urban environment. Yet, despite significant advances in recent years there has been no mass adoption. Considerable barriers remain because there are no established communication protocols and infrastructure standards. Even countries at the leading edge of the automotive industry lack national frameworks. Liability regimes are undefined, and safety and security concerns are widespread. Governments, manufacturers, and other AV stakeholders need a path through this mixture of technological promise and legal and regulatory uncertainty.
A promising avenue is for AV stakeholders to adopt the mind-set and approaches that civil aviation has used to resolve similar issues. Already, most commercial aircraft operate with significant autonomy in almost all phases of flight. The next generation of air-navigation technology, currently in development, will bring civil aviation closer to full autonomy.
In particular, there are three areas in which AV stakeholders can learn from civil aviation:
  • Infrastructure: Civil aviation uses a range of physical and technological infrastructure to maintain extremely high safety standards, such as multiple redundant-communication and collision-avoidance systems.
  • Regulations: International authorities set principles and regulations that airlines, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and air traffic control providers abide by. There are consistent, agreed standards for interoperability and safety, which encourage consumer demand.
  • A public–private ecosystem: Aircraft fly autonomously because of a plethora of back-up systems — including pilots, airline operating control centers, air traffic control facilities, and other public- and private-sector bodies. There is also a network of public and private stakeholders responsible for operations, monitoring, and maintenance.
Governments, manufacturers, and other stakeholders can use the experience of civil aviation to develop the policies, regulations, infrastructure, and business environment that will enable the safe, effective, and widespread introduction of AV technology.

The future of transportation is coming

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is advancing rapidly. Allied Market Research projects that the worldwide market will grow from an estimated US$54 billion in 2019 to $557 billion by 2026.1 At the end of 2018, 74 cities around the world had autonomous vehicle pilot programs under way. The number has increased since then, and for good reason. AVs have the potential to transform the transportation industry, making it far safer and more efficient than the current system of driver-controlled vehicles. The technology could also have broad effects on society at large, radically changing the notion of car ownership, where people work and live, and how vehicles are designed and evaluated by consumers. The Covid-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing with contactless interactions has accelerated mass pilot programs of AV technologies, with a number of public and private organization around the world using AVs for the transportation of passengers, medical supplies, food, and parcels.

However, technology is only one aspect of an autonomous transportation network — and likely not the greatest barrier to adoption. Governments need to sort through issues such as changes to infrastructure and regulations. OEMs and telecom companies will need to collaborate on communications standards. Insurers will need to rethink liability in a vehicle accident. Also, consumers will need to embrace the technology, primarily by believing that it is safe.

These are challenging issues, but they are not new. Indeed, the commercial airline industry may have the answers. Today, commercial aircraft operate mostly through automated systems. The next generation of avionics and air traffic control technology will bring the industry one step closer to full autonomy. In that way, the airline industry offers critical lessons for how AV technology may develop, and how government policymakers and other stakeholders across the AV ecosystem should properly prepare for the gradual introduction of the technology.

1 Allied Market Research, “Autonomous Vehicle Market Outlook - 2026”.

“The airline industry offers critical lessons for how AV technology may develop, and how government policymakers and other stakeholders across the AV ecosystem should properly prepare for the gradual introduction of the technology.”


The technology to deliver roads filled with AVs has almost arrived. Visionary governments should facilitate their introduction by learning from aviation and crafting rules and regulations that will deliver the benefits of safer and more efficient transport. Moreover, private stakeholders should rethink their business models to become more relevant and monetize their offering in a very different automotive future.

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Camil  Tahan

Camil Tahan

Partner, Strategy& Middle East

Nabil Katicha

Nabil Katicha

Principal, Strategy& Middle East