In a move to save costs and ease staff shortages, many countries are asking the UN body that controls global aviation safety rules, to move to a one-pilot model in commercial flights, instead of two.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency believes this might happen as soon as 2027, but it raises issues of safety and places more stress on pilots.
Tony Lucas, an Airbus SE A330 captain for Qantas Airways and president of the Australian & International Pilots Association, told Bloomberg that lone pilots could be quickly overwhelmed in emergency situations and it might take backup too long to arrive in the cockpit. “When things go awry, they go awry fairly quickly,” said Lucas, who added that the people pushing for this move are not the same ones who fly these jets every day.
An additional issue is that there are fewer opportunities for junior crew members to learn from experienced pilots if everyone flies alone.
The EUSA is running a safety risk assessment on single-pilot operations, to find out what rules would need to be in place to manage issues such as fatigue and comfort breaks.
A statement by the EASA in January 2021 stated that there would also need to be advanced autonomous systems in place to fly the aircraft unmanned should the crew become incapacitated.
In one sense, this is just a logical conclusion to the increasing automation that has been happening in the aviation industry for decades. In the 1950s, there would have been a captain, a co-pilot, a flight engineer, a navigator and a radio operator all in the cockpit.
Over 40 countries have asked to change regulations, including Germany and the U.K. and the stipulation by the EU has been that a single-pilot cockpit is as safe as one with two pilots.
On of the biggest obstacles though is not whether it is possible to fly with one pilot safely, but more if customers would be willing to accept the idea.