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.
Over 40 countries including Germany, the UK and New Zealand have asked the United Nations body that sets aviation standards to help make single-pilot flights a safe reality. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has also been working with planemakers to determine how solo flights would operate and preparing rules to oversee them. EASA said such services could start in 2027.
According to EASA, the first concept is “extended minimum-crew operations” (eMCO) where operations with a crew of two pilots are enhanced by allowing one of the two pilots to rest, in turn, during the cruise only, while the other is at the control. “At a later stage and provided safe operations can be granted, end-to-end single-pilot operations could be deployed,” EASA said.
“The development of aviation has been inextricably connected to technological advancement. Despite the exponential growth of air transport over the last century, the accident rate has progressively decreased,” assured EASA. The European agency mentions that the combination of technological advances and improved human performance have contributed to commercial flights becoming the safest means of transportation.
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.