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15 July, 2024
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Airlines pushing for single-pilot flights

Flights will be flown with only one pilot as part of efforts to cut costs and relieve staff shortages

Source: Money Review

Airlines around the world are pushing for only one pilot in the cockpit of passenger jets as part of efforts to cut costs and decompress from staff shortages.

Flights could eventually be fully automated with minimal pilot supervision. (Single-pilot) services are expected to be available as early as 2027.

According to Bloomberg, at least 40 countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, have requested that the United Nations aviation authority develop safety regulations for single-pilot flights. Simultaneously, the European Aviation Safety Association (EASA) is collaborating with aircraft manufacturers to determine how single-pilot flights will be carried out and to develop rules to govern them. Such services are expected to be available as early as 2027.

Passengers and pilots are both concerned. To illustrate, Tony Lucas, president of the Australian and International Pilots' Association and a pilot for Qantas, Australia's national carrier, is concerned that in an emergency, a pilot alone will become overwhelmed before anyone else can get into the cockpit to help. "When things go wrong, they go wrong fast," he told Bloomberg.

Flight 447 of Air France

Furthermore, on Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009, the two co-pilots in the cockpit began receiving incorrect speed readings, most likely due to frozen sensors on the outside of the aircraft, while the captain was resting in the cabin. The situation could not be changed in the 90 seconds it took to get into the cockpit. Within three minutes, the plane plummeted from 35,000 feet into the water, killing 228 people.

At the same time, Lucas is concerned that there will be insufficient opportunities to train new pilots with fewer people in the cockpit.

How the changes will be implemented

For decades, the aviation industry has been reducing the number of people in the cockpit in favor of technological tools. In the 1950s, for example, cockpits typically included a captain, a copilot, an aircraft engineer, a navigator, and a communications manager. The last three positions have been eliminated as a result of technological advancement.

"We may be removing the last unnecessary person in the cockpit," said Janet Northcote, EASA's communications director. Of course, taking such a step requires that a flight with one pilot be as safe as or safer than a flight with two co-pilots.

A psychological problem
"The psychological barriers are likely to be greater than the technological barriers," said Alexander Feldman, Boeing's Southeast Asia president. "The technology is there to support flight with a pilot," he said at a Bloomberg conference, "but it's really about us making regulators and the public feel comfortable."

The initial trials are expected to test flying with one person during the navigation phase, which requires less action than take-off and landing. This means that instead of being above the controls, one pilot will be able to rest in the cabin. Long flights could be completed with just two people, eliminating the need for a third co-pilot.

Flights could eventually be fully automated with minimal pilot supervision. According to EASA, the system would detect if the pilot is unable to operate the aircraft for any reason and then land the aircraft on its own at the default airport. However, the agency stressed that such flights are unlikely to occur before 2030.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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