Random Thoughts – Randocity!

One Cockpit Pilot for Commercial Jets?

Posted in airline, botch, business by commorancy on November 30, 2022

low angle photography of airplane

The airline industry has continued reeling ever since the start of the pandemic. I won’t get exactly into why that is, but let’s just said that the Airlines caused this problem for themselves. As a result, pilot shortages are now seemingly commonplace. Commercial airlines are now seeking ways to reduce their pilot shortage, but not in sane ways. One idea is that pilots should be reduced to one in the cockpit. Let’s explore why this is probably the single worst idea that could be floated.

Health Problems

Let’s jump right into this disastrous idea and understand why one pilot should never be considered for nor allowed on any commercial carrier flights.

The #1 combined reasons why this practice should not ever be allowed is health concerns and redundancy. Having two pilots in the cockpit allows the second pilot to take over should the first one become incapacitated or incapable of flying. Effectively, having two pilots offers a backup system, human redundancy. Human redundancy is the difference between a successful flight and a crashed flight.

Think about it. If a single pilot in a single pilot cockpit becomes ill, incapacitated or worse, who’s going to fly the plane? Are the airlines going to require one or more of the flight attendants to have extensive pilot training so they can assume the role as pilot under this circumstance? That would mean that every flight would need to have at least one flight attendant who is qualified and capable of piloting that specific plane. How many flight attendants would be flight attendants if they were trained to be a pilot?

Short Flights

man flying helicopter

Some might argue that flights under an hour might offer the possibility of a single pilot cockpit. I contend the opposite. The flight duration does not reduce the danger level. For short flights, that danger level might even increase. Commercial jumbo jets do not run themselves. Like driver assisted motor vehicles, commercial jets require someone to read the controls and understand if the automated systems are functioning correctly.

With only one set of eyes on the controls, it’s easy to miss critical information. Additionally, cockpits are designed to have two sets of eyes and hands. One pilot cannot reach over and touch the far controls that would be handled by a co-pilot. Unless jumbo jet owners plan to retrofit the ergonomics of every cockpit’s controls to accommodate a single pilot’s reach, a single pilot might be required to stand up and move to the second station to mess with those controls. Yes, most controls are right in front of the pilot, some may not be on some cockpit designs. In other words, one size may not fit all in this scenario.

Still, short flights are just as dangerous as any longer flight.

Long Flights

For international flights which might be 13-20 hours, you can’t expect a single pilot to work that many hours continuously. That flight must have at least two pilots simply to handle the shifts require to prevent overwork fatigue. On top of that, pilots need breaks. Who’s going to watch the cockpit when he or she needs a nature break? A flight attendant?

For a single pilot cockpit, on long haul flights, is that pilot simply going to leave the cockpit to go take a snooze for hours? Yeah, for long haul flights, it’s simply not practical. At least two pilots are a must. There’s no other way.

Remote Control

photo of man holding remote control while looking upwards

Some have argued that having the ground control able to remote control the flight safely from the ground could become a workable solution for a one pilot cockpit. Right now, we’re nowhere near allowing flight control to safely control a jumbo jet from the ground to a safe landing. Should that become a reality in the future, perhaps pilot free cockpits might work.

There are literal dead spots between control towers that would see a jumbo jet crash. We simply don’t have reliable means to remote control a jet through its entire journey, particularly those flying over open ocean areas where radio contact can sometimes not even be available.

Airlines and Cost Cutting

Airlines can’t just cut the flight crew down to one and “hope for the best”. That’s entirely reckless. It doesn’t matter how young or fit or well or able bodied that a pilot is. Health conditions can come on suddenly and incapacitate someone at any age… even simply from eating a bad meal on board a flight. The point here is that if pilots are reduced to one, every airline is rolling dice in the hopes that nothing bad happens. It’s pretty much guaranteed that allowing a one pilot system would very likely lead to more deaths in the airline industry.

Overworked Pilots

If pilots think they’re being overworked now with this pilot shortage, moving to a single pilot cockpit is most definitely going to cause even more fatigue and burnout with the existing pilots. Being a single pilot in the cockpit puts all of the flight stress and pressure onto one person who could easily make a mistake without knowing it. That’s tough. If commercial airlines want to chase away pilots, moving to single pilots is most definitely the way to do it.

The whole point to a second pilot is for the second pilot to check the first pilot’s work and suggest any corrections. The point in a team is to manage the flight together and agree that everything has been done correctly or disagree and correct the problem. Without that second person, there is no possibility of disagreement.

There’s no way to call any airline safe who chooses to practice having only one pilot at the controls.

Flight Attendant Training

To become a flight attendant, a person must go through rigorous safety training which lasts weeks. Some training can last months, depending on the airline’s requirements. Flight attendants must also reaffirm their training at least once a year to remain certified with the FAA. This training consists of medical training along with safety exercises such as how to safely and quickly evacuate everyone from a plane in emergency conditions using the evacuation slides.

They also learn how to perform their duties and must take practice flights to better understand what’s required of them while in flight.

If a flight attendant is also required to know how to pinch fly a jumbo jet, that takes their training to a whole new level. As stated above, if they’re effectively required to get a pilot’s license, then why become a flight attendant?

Airlines must either force some flight attendants into pilot’s training or technology must catch up to allow for remote control piloting. Either road leads to obstacles for airlines… and may simply shift the problem to a different business area. While it might help to reduce pilot shortages, it may move those shortages to flight attendants or in flight controllers. It’s never a workable solution to think you can make one change and not affect a whole lot of other people down the line. That’s exactly what will happen here.

Would you fly a commercial airline with only one pilot?

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