What do you think about single-pilot airplanes for commercial flights?
If you follow the latest stories in aviation, you may have already heard about the ground-breaking prospect that passenger jets may soon become single-pilot airplanes. To bring you up to speed, this blog post examines everything you need to know – from the thinkers behind this new idea to whether we’re likely to see single-pilot airplanes in the skies!
The forces behind the change
It’s NASA that announced it has been researching the possibilities of single-pilot airplanes in recent years, while earlier this summer, Boeing revealed that it had developed new technology which could see single-pilot airplanes for commercial flights take off. These planes would carry 20 or more passengers – which currently require there to be at least two crew in the cockpit.
So how do they work? Well, it places a greater focus on automation, using technology which would help to simulate the role of one of those two pilots, leaving the remaining human pilot able to fly the jet solo.
The idea behind the need for single-pilot airplanes comes from the growing pilot shortage across the world. With fewer pilots for commercial airlines to hire, maybe technology needs to fill the gap to keep up with the demand from passengers.
Changing the rules
At this point, the FAA requires all passenger jets with capacity for 20 passengers or more to have a minimum of two pilots, who can share the demands of the work. Europe has similar rules, not to mention other countries across the world too. Therefore, to get single-pilot airplanes up and running in the skies would require changes in legislation worldwide – which is no mean feat.
However, it’s worth remembering that it was only a few decades ago that legal requirements demanded three crew members in the cockpit. If the rules were changed back then, would it be so difficult to change them again?
Earning public trust
It’s not just about getting governments onside. Early research suggests that the public may be mistrustful of the concept of single-pilot airplanes, not merely from the perspective of the demands on the pilot, but also due to concerns following events such as the deliberate crash by the Germanwings pilot back in 2015.
Statistics suggest accidents are more likely to occur with private and business jets flown by one pilot – although it could be argued that this is due to a lack of monitoring which is far more stringent with two-pilot passenger jets.
Either way, it may take some time to put the paying public’s minds at rest if their Boeing 737 only has one pilot at the helm.
Soon to be seen in the skies?
It may well be a little while until we see single-pilot airplanes replace two-pilot passenger jets – if at all. In addition to the issues listed above regarding changes to legislation and the need to get the public onside, a series of solo simulation tests carried out by US pilots didn’t earn the highest praise. The pilots reported the workload of flying the jets alone to be “unacceptable” – and that was on simulated flights where everything went to plan.
Therefore, the sheer demands that single-pilot airplanes may place on commercial pilots may be too much for one individual to handle on their own. However, who knows what solutions innovators and researchers may come up with in the future?
So what do you think about single-pilot airplanes? An ideal solution to the global pilot shortage? Or a worrying prospect with negative consequences for pilots and passengers alike? Let us know in the comments below!