Proposal Launched For Single-Pilot Airline Ops During Cruise Flight Phase


Flights involving large jets launching with just one pilot in the pointy end are not in the foreseeable future, but there may be some room for compromise. As reported today (Feb. 7) by Reuters, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will not accede to some industry pressure for launching an effort to reduce two-pilot crews to single-pilot operations by 2030 but is considering limited single-pilot operations as early as 2027.

According to the news agency, Airbus and Dassault Aviation, makers of the Falcon line of business jets, are advocating for single-pilot operations, but only during the cruise phase—and that the solo pilots would have to meet higher experience and health standards. The effort is said to address the growing pilot shortage and would enable a second pilot to snooze more comfortably in a rest area rather than catnapping in the cockpit.

Such a rule change would enable operators to dispatch some longer missions with two pilots rather than requiring three or four. Reuters reports the proposal is sparking some “backlash” among pilot groups.

EASA manager Andrea Boiardi told Reuters an earlier proposal from the industry to allow totally single-pilot flying by 2030 was “absolutely not realistic.”

Any change in crewing requirements would first have to be approved by individual airlines, their pilot unions and the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is said to be preparing to study the topic early this year. Reuters reports that Boiardi said EASA would consider such operations only on more modern aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing’s 787s and 777Xs.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Or they could – and I know this is a radical thought – invest sufficiently in crew training, retention and pay generally to have enough crew without taking shortcuts?

    • Two pilots didn’t stop that, nor did two pilots prevent an incompetent Atlas 767 from crashing a perfectly good airplane. One could say that had a single, competent pilot been flying that aircraft, the flight wouldn’t have crashed, because the bad pilot wouldn’t have been there to disconnect the yokes by over reacting to simple turbulence and disorientation.

      The proposal would affect cruise pilots that are expensive and unproductive, but the incidents above indicate that more pilots don’t necessarily mean more safety. To implement full time single pilot operations, which many corporations fly valuable execs in today in turbo props and single seat jets, would require extensive changes to autopilot control from the ground, or auto land from cruise. We’re decades away from that in airline operations.

  2. A “single-point-of-failure” analysis of commercial aircraft operation would certainly conclude that the component most likely to fail is the meat-sack in the pointy end. Which, coincidentally, is also the last backup for all the other points of failure. Only a bean-counter would think that this is a good idea.

    • Except that, as others have pointed out, having two carbon units in charge ain’t necessarily an improvement. And in cruise flight, nobody is really manning the controls, or even watching too closely, unless an alert sounds.

  3. This is stupid. 1) Anyone who’s sit in the cockpit know just how much we make mistakes. It truly takes two minds in the cockpit. 2). How will future pilots get acclimated to airline flying if there is only one seat? 3) In emergencies, it can take every bit of two brainds and four hands and four feet to settle a problem. 4) What will passengers think of an airline that’s too cheap to hire two-pilot crews? 5) Even worse, how will airline executives explain the first smoking hole in the ground that shareholders are more important than the lives of pasengers?

    Count me out, I will never fly as paseenger in an airliner meant for two dumbassees for one that has only one. Pilots aren’t perfect beings but they’re better than any software program or flight safety nanny.

  4. Oh this is gold.
    The pilot shortage brings out the obvious solution : put less pilots on the flight deck.
    Hmmm…that will save what – MONEY?
    So it’s about PROFIT for airlines? I see.
    Nothing new and nor should anyone be surprised at this latest cynical development to put financial gain in front of passenger safety.

    • To be fair – when airline ticket prices go up people complain. Some even decide to drive versus fly – which is statistically much riskier than flying.

      • I don’t mind that as much as rude TSA agents, rude ticket agents, flight attendants, and rude/crazy passengers. I would happily pay more for the flights of the 80’s-90’s.

  5. …..yes, all that. And yet, you know it is coming in some form or another, probably first to cargo ops. Imagine what the flight crews back in the ’30s would have thought of today’s operations. Huge complex aircraft with hundreds of passengers and only two persons handling the whole thing?

    • …but two people with a lot of computer and hydraulic assistance – at least until the electronics stop working 🙂

  6. How will this solo pilot wrestle an airplane, run emergency checklists, keep the cabin crew informed, and communicate with ATC? Dumbest idea ever.

  7. Putting aside the safety aspects of literally flying the airplane. What about the fact that I can’t leave the flight deck to use the lav without having a flight attendant coming forward and babysitting my co-pilot? We’ve seen the results of foreign carriers that leave a single pilot on the flight deck. They have crashed planes into the Atlantic off NY and the Alps. Are they going to do mental/psychological tests before each flight?

  8. Oohhhh-ooohhh-ooooh…Wait for it….. NEXT we can have a single pilot airplane….pulling a WHOLE STRING of Passenger-Filled GLIDERS! YES! THAT’’S THE TICKET!