Pilot Groups Unite To Fight Single-Pilot Operations


Three of the world’s largest pilot organizations have joined forces to fight the growing lobby to allow single-pilot operations in airliners. The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), representing more than 250,000 airline pilots worldwide, plan to lobby regulators all over the world to reject the apparent move toward acceptance of one pilot on the flight deck. “Technology, no matter how sophisticated, is not a replacement for pilots on the flight deck, the group said.

Proponents argue that automated flight and navigation systems have advanced to the point that they are able to handle routine flight operations autonomously. The single pilot onboard would monitor the systems and take over if something goes wrong. The European Union is considering allowing single-pilot operations for cruise segments of flights in the next few years. In addition to removing one layer of safety redundancy, the pilot groups argue that the whole system revolves around have two sets of human eyes, ears and hands available. “Every aspect of your flight—the aircraft, its systems, the regulations, and standards that apply to the flight, and the procedures that pilots follow—is deliberately designed for a team working together on the flight deck.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I saw that there is a push to possibly get the age limit raised. What about the idea of one and a half pilots in the cockpit? I’m 69 with about 150 hours and a previous Grumman Cheetah owner. I could be trained as a 1/2 FO to fly right seat on long haul flights while the Captain naps. Would enjoy the job even if 1/2 pay, might even just volunteer. Total Air Head for hire.

  2. Staying awake in the wee hours of a long transatlantic flight is at times extremely difficult. The “NASA” nap works wonders. Seated in the chair, although not optimal, if very tired it works enough for a short nap. The other guy/gal, knowing that he/she is now the sole pilot gets an adrenaline boost and stays awake.
    But You are right there in case of an emergency. Within seconds You are fully awake and able to act and assist the other pilot.
    With a single pilot we can be sure the “dozed off” pilot incidents will dramatically increase. Everyone that drives long distances hours after midnight knows how strong the forces are to shut Yr brains off.
    Don C.: many (intercontinental flying) airlines already have such pilots (often VERY young with 20-21 of age!), nowadays called a cruise relief pilot. Full type rated but not licensed below cruise levels/10.000′ or so, let alone landings.

  3. Exactly one week ago an airliner experienced an emergency because of an incapacitated captain. Regardless of the technology, the question is, will passengers fly on an airliner with only one pilot? Have these proponents even thought about surveying the customers?

    • No need to survey the customers. If it will save them $5 on their trip they’ll fly with an Apple IIe in front. Or a monkey. (A monkey WITH an Apple IIe costs extra.)

  4. I’m not a fan of this idea either. This is where the FAA’s dragging their feet on changes actually works in favor of retaining at least 2 pilot crews. The amount of rule changes that would be required along with changes in airplane certification, I seriously doubt anything in this country will happen within the next 20 years, if ever. Can you imagine having to handle emergencies like the USAir Airbus in New York or the Quantas A380 with multiple failures all by one lone pilot?

    • The ‘calming’ effect of having another person / pilot helping should not be underestimated. I just read where a young female student pilot in MI lost her NLG, Another pilot stepped in and calmed her down and the end result was a perfect landing. Without that, who knows what’d happened. This is THE nuttiest idea I’ve ever heard of. NO !!!

  5. If it were not for some policies of some pilot groups, there could be all sorts of possibilities. What would likely be better is to simply reduce some of the pressures on the systems by reducing the amount of traffic at some of these big airports. Also, fix the crazy work rules and game playing.