The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), one of the largest pilots unions in the United States, has released a report that highlights the importance of having two pilots in charge of flying large, commercial aircraft. The report comes at a time when aircraft manufacturers are beginning to consider the possibility of single-pilot airliners.
According to the report, titled The Dangers of Single-Pilot Operations, ALPA believes that having two pilots in the cockpit may be jeopardized as airlines attempt to cut costs. ALPA claims that there is government research of one-pilot operations of commercial aircraft and that airline executives have even asked aircraft manufacturers to consider single-pilot versions of aircraft.
“Pilots on board an aircraft can see, feel, smell and hear many indications of an impending problem and begin to formulate a course of action before even the most sophisticated sensors and indicators provide positive indications of trouble,” said the union in a statement.
The report goes on to cite accidents that were avoided by having two pilots in the cockpit, such as US Airways flight 1549, which crash-landed in the Hudson River, and Southwest flight 1380, which suffered an engine failure after taking off from New York in 2018.
“Studies collectively indicate that despite the dramatic technological advances since the rules were established, a cockpit crew of at least two pilots remains necessary to maintain the current high level of safety and flight deck security,” said the union’s report.
However, many airlines have distanced themselves from the topic, mainly due to the worries that would arise should passengers find out that one pilot is being eliminated from the cockpit.
“It’s certainly not anything that American is working on or trying to make happen,” said Doug Parker, chief executive of American Airlines, at an industry forum last year when asked about autonomous aircraft. “The comfort [pilots] provide is not something that most consumers are going to want to forgo.”
Still, the cost savings that could arise are hard to shy away from. UBS Group AG stated that airlines could look at a profit potential of almost $15 billion when flying with a single pilot. With the introduction of driverless cars, many argue that aircraft could use similar artificial intelligence and if proved to be safe, passengers would be comfortable with it.
Single-pilot operations are not uncommon throughout the world, especially as AirlineGeeks found out when riding along with Cape Air in a Cessna 412C operated by a single pilot into and out of Boston Logan International Airport. Additionally, Cessna has been producing twin-engine jets geared at single-pilot operations for years including the popular Citation Jet series of aircraft and Cirrus recently debuted its single-engine Cirrus Vision SF50 jet made specifically to be operated by a single pilot.
However, while single-pilot operations of pistons, turboprops and jets are commonplace, the single-pilot operation of an aircraft such Boeing 737 is still yet to be seen, mainly because the jet is designed for two pilots.
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