DALLAS – The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), responsible for regulating and controlling aviation safety procedures in the European Union, has rejected the proposal to develop single-pilot airline commercial flights in Europe by 2030. The goal of this proposal was to help ease the challenging pilot shortage the industry faces after the extraordinary comeback of air travel demand.
However, EASA defines this idea as “absolutely not realistic”. This is because automation had not advanced far enough, and solo flying required a level of safety equivalent to existing operations. Andrea Boiardi, manager of the agency, thinks that only the most advanced aircraft, such as the Airbus A350, Boeing 787, and 777X, had sufficient technology to enable solo flying eventually during the cruise phase of the flight.
Manufacturers such as Airbus or Dassault Aviation are studying this last concept of cruise solo flying, as long-haul crews that today require a staff of more than two pilots would have the opportunity to be reduced to just a pair. Despite this, the implementation of this methodology would not arrive until 2027, at the earliest.
After all, the idea of flying with just one pilot has been diving the aviation community through the latest decade, as companies from around the world can’t agree on whether this concept is a good or a bad idea. Airlines such as Air France (AF) remain silent, classifying this issue as a non-priority. In contrast, others, such as Cathay Pacific (CX), are already in talks with manufacturers to achieve the goal of reduced-crew operations.
Context About Single-Pilot Flying
The global aviation market has already seen the pros and cons of operating aircraft with just one pilot. As stated before, the main benefit is the enormous reduction in crew costs by half or even more. Some airlines, all of them operating small propeller aircraft, do operate their short flights with this method.
Private airplane operators also can fly their jets with just one pilot. Still, this procedure has never been seen on larger commercial airlines of the likes of Ryanair (FR), American Airlines (AA), or British Airways (BA).
Single-pilot flying has also seen the other negative side of the coin, related to how safe it is to entrust the crucial job of flying hundreds of passengers to only one pilot. On March 24th, 2015, a Germanwings (4U) pilot deliberately crashed his aircraft while its crewmate was out of the cockpit and could not stop the disaster that claimed the lives of 150.
This accident marked a before and after in commercial aviation and has since forced many airlines to change their flight deck policies.
The implementation of single-pilot flying would then mean a major stepback in safety, overriding the horrible consequences of the crash of Germanwings flight 9525.
Since the beginning, aviation has been one of the single markets that have taken the redundancy of avionics and safety procedures very seriously, placing the word “backup” as one of the main priorities. Erasing one pilot from any flight operation would result in the discontinuity of one of the aspects that have let flying be the safest method of transportation in history.
Featured image: A United Airlines Boeing 737-9 MAX cockpit. Photo: Luke Ayers/Luke Ayers