MIAMI – The subject of having only one pilot per aircraft is highly controversial since it has a direct impact on flight safety. As such, the idea is adversely countered by national or supra-national pilots associations. But is it a feasible idea?

We entrust our safety in the sky to commercial pilots who work in pairs, both of whom have spent years training to be able to fly in any circumstance. A pilot can technically fly a plane by him/herself, but having two pilots is essentially necessary. In recent years, proposals to have a single pilot on the flight deck – to save money or maybe cover staff shortages – have been made, but this is just not feasible in an industry where safety is important.

Despite the fact that having two crew members in the cockpit at all times is a requirement imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration on US airlines, it is still not standard practice around the world. Following the March 2015 Germanwings tragedy, airlines in Europe and Canada imposed a “rule of two,” yet as of this year, several dropped the need when governing bodies eased the regulation — with German carriers claiming other potential security reasons for not mandating it.

However, if the worst should happen, having a backup pilot on board can be the difference between calamity and peaceful flying.

For example, an Etihad Airways captain recently took ill while flying and deteriorated until he was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby airport. This may conjure up images from the movies, in which a novice staff member is compelled to take over the controls, potentially with the assistance of an eager air traffic controller, and is shown how to fly and land the jet.

In actuality, though, you would not want this to happen. In the case of Ethiad, the fully trained second pilot, known as the first officer on board, was able to take full control of the plane and land it at the nearest airport. The passengers and crew aboard the Ethiad flight were safe the entire time, with the exception of the captain’s untimely demise. It would be awful to speculate on what may have happened if there had only been one pilot on board.

The European Cockpit Association


After describing the issue, we can shed some light from the pilots’ side. The European Cockpit Association (ECA) took a precise stand against the “Project Connect” initiated by Airbus and Cathay Pacific Airlines (CX) with a target date of 2025. The stand, posted on Facebook on June 17, was relayed by the Italian National Association of Civil Aviation Pilots (ANPAC).

The FB post indicated that “manufacturers are working on the technology to remove pilots from the cockpit and airlines are supporting them.” ECA goes on by adding that those involved are reluctant to acknowledge their involvement in the project with three aspects that are worrying ECA.

The first question consists of the rush under which the project is run, the second consists of the secrecy surrounding the project, and the third consists of who is and what is actually running the project. From these three points stems the definite stand by ECA against the project. It does not support the idea of “reduced or single-pilot operations in any phase of the flight.”

The association is, moreover, asking for more transparency and for “credible answers” from those involved with the project. It also estimates that the attempt to reduce crew in the cockpit has a clear cost-cutting signature directed towards flying “more at zero cost.”

ECA concludes by stating that, if economics and innovation take supremacy, history teaches us that this has a negative impact on flight safety.


Video Script: Mario Bertoletti

Voiceover: Ric Rosenbaum

Video: Liam Funnell

Media: Cathay Pacific, Airbus, Etihad

Thumbnail: Kochan Kleps


Featured image: Liam Funnell. Article source: Airways, theconversation.com