By 2030, single-pilot commercial aircraft operations, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), are “absolutely not realistic.”
The Chief Expert on Operational Suitability at EASA, Andrea Boiardi, dismissed the idea that commercial aircraft would be flown by a single pilot by 2030 in an interview with Reuters. The Italian agency official did not, however, rule out the possibility that, by 2027, some flight segments might only have one pilot in the cockpit.
Two French manufacturers, Airbus and Dassault, have proposed allowing operators to fly with just one pilot during the cruise phase. Two pilots would still be required in the very front seats of the aircraft for takeoffs and landings.
Boiardi is one of the technical leads of the “Extended Minimum Crew Operations – Single Pilot Operations – Safety Risk Assessment Framework” project, which was contracted by EASA to the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR).
NLR received €930,000 ($994,230) from the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation initiative to evaluate the viability of Extended Minimum Crew Operations (eMCO) and Single Pilot Operations (SiPO) by 2025 and 2030, respectively. The evaluation will take place between September 2022 and August 2024. Pilot workload, pilot error, pilot incapacitation, weariness, sleep inertia, and other crucial SiPOs-related topics will all be investigated in this research.
Project Connect has been developed by Airbus and Cathay Pacific, a company based in Hong Kong. The project’s objective is to create and test a long-haul single-pilot system.
The partnership between Airbus and Cathay Pacific, along with other industry-wide initiatives, aims to address the aviation sector’s acute pilot shortage. However, the attempt has not persuaded the pilots themselves.
“Having only one pilot in a commercial aircraft flies in the face of evidence and logic,” said Sully Sullenberger, the captain of a US Airways Airbus A320, which crash landed on the Hudson River in New York, United States, without a single fatality in 2018.
“One way we have made commercial aviation ultra-safe is by having two fully qualified and experienced pilots in every cockpit. Every safety protocol we have is predicated on having two pilots work seamlessly together as an expert team cross-checking, backing each other up, managing the workload, catching and correcting errors – even collaborating wordlessly in situations where the time pressure and workload are so great there is not even time to talk about what has happened and what must be done.”
While this is going on, the European Cockpit Association (ECA) released the following statement: “It is abhorrent that manufacturers & EASA are dressing up an aggressive drive for Reduced Crew Operations as a remedy for pilot fatigue (a very serious problem!) or a “labor shortage” (an inexistent problem).”