Airlines Push for Single Pilot Flights

Airlines & regulators are considering having just one pilot in the cockpit and not two. However, this change could be overwhelming for some.

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Airlines Push for Single Pilot Flights

Credit - Bangkok Post

More than 40 countries including New Zealand, Germany & the UK have approached the aviation wing of the United Nations to make single-pilot flights a safe reality. 

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency too has been working with plane manufacturers to find out how solo pilot flights would operate. EASA said the same could be achieved in 2027. However, a lot of pilots as well as passengers are not comfortable with it. 

Tony Lucas, an Airbus SE A330 captain for Qantas Airways Ltd. and president of the Australian & International Pilots Association feels that a lone pilot might get overwhelmed at the time of emergency. 

“The people going down this route aren’t the people who fly jets every day,” Lucas said. “When things go awry, they go awry fairly quickly.” That’s what happened on board Air France Flight 447 on its way to Paris from Rio de Janeiro on June 1, 2009. With the plane cruising at 35,000 feet (10,670 meters) over the Atlantic Ocean and the captain resting in the cabin, the two co-pilots in the cockpit started receiving faulty speed readings, likely from frozen detector tubes outside the aircraft.

By the time the captain got to the cockpit 90 seconds later, the plane was in an aerodynamic stall from which it never recovered. Less than three minutes later, it hit the water, killing all 228 people on board. Lucas, a check and training captain, also worries about the lost opportunities to mentor junior pilots if flight crew are working increasingly on their own.

Change might hit us soon

The planned changes would definitely come with its own set of challenges. It’s still unclear what would happen if the lone pilot fell ill or started misbehaving during the flight. This would also entail that automation, technology & ground assistance would have to improve by leaps and bounds to make up for the absence of a second pilot. 

Aviation has been moving toward this point for decades. In the 1950s, commercial aircraft cockpits were more crowded, typically with a captain, first officer or co-pilot, a flight engineer, a navigator and a radio operator. 

Advances in technology gradually made the last three positions redundant. “We are potentially removing the last piece of human redundancy from the flight deck,” Janet Northcote, EASA’s head of communications, wrote in an email. 

To take one step at a time, the process would begin with solo piloting while the other pilot can rest in the cabin. By alternating turns, a 2 person crew can become more acquainted with flying solo for longer routes. Ultimately, flying could be fully automated with minimal monitoring from a pilot. However, such flights won’t be possible before 2030.

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