Next week I will join hundreds of pilots from airlines around the world at an international conference in Montreal.
On my flight to Canada, there will always be two well-rested and well-trained pilots on the flight deck, working as a team to get their passengers and crew to their destination.
This is the only safe way to fly – but there is a dangerous push underway by some airlines and manufacturers for single-pilot flights, perhaps by as early as 2027.
As a veteran aviator with more than 28 years’ experience in airliner flight decks, I know this cost-cutting move will increase risk and reduce safety.
I can tell you for a fact I wouldn’t want my family on a flight flown by one pilot.
I wouldn’t even want them on an airline that was considering single-pilots flights because that would indicate that airline doesn’t value safety. Here’s why.
Flying is the safest mode of transportation because airliners have what we call redundancy built in all over.
They have at least two engines, multiple electric and hydraulic systems, multiple flight management computers, and, crucially, at least two pilots.
This means that if one pilot has a medical episode and is incapacitated – or simply needs to use the bathroom – the other can safely fly the plane.
Having two pilots also makes emergencies easier to handle. When things go wrong at 35,000 feet and 950 km/h, they go wrong fairly quickly.
There are multiple examples where two (or more) pilots have worked together to avert disaster.
You may recall the “miracle on the Hudson” in 2009 when Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles landed an Airbus A320 on the river off Manhattan after a flock of birds took out the engines.
This was only possible because they worked as a team on the flight deck, each performing different tasks.
The bean-counters and bureaucrats behind the push for single-pilot flights don’t understand this because they don’t spend their working lives flying as part of a well trained flight deck crew.
They respond by saying that autopilot technology is getting better every year.
This may be true, but the autopilot only helps fly the plane (in many ways it is nothing more than a fancy cruise control) whilst two human pilots are still needed to make the safety critical decisions. For example, if there is a tropical storm en-route, the pilots decide how to navigate a safe path through it.
If a flight needs an emergency landing, the pilots decide where to go and the safest way to get there.
Even more worrying is that computer systems are not immune to glitching. Sometimes they are the source of an issue and need to be overridden by the pilots.
When some of the sharpest minds in the world are struggling to make autonomous cars a safe reality, why on earth should we entrust our lives to a computer in the sky?
Coasting to a stop on the side of the road is not one of our available options.
There are other major pitfalls with single-pilot flying beyond the immediate safety concerns. One major consideration is training and knowledge transfer.
If less-experienced pilots never get to sit next to their more-experienced colleagues, how are they supposed to improve?
There is always a lot of time spent in cruise exchanging information and learning.
The knowledge I learned from my seniors during my younger years on the flight deck has helped me become the Training Captain I am today.
I am concerned that future pilots won’t have this opportunity for knowledge transfer.
Secondly, pilots flying alone on long trips would almost certainly be more susceptible to fatigue and, over the long term, degraded mental health – both of which are likely to reduce safety.
Thirdly, the financial benefits to the airlines of sacking all the co-pilots may not be as good as they think.
Pilots’ wages only make up a tiny fraction of the cost of your airline ticket, with most of the price going towards fuel, taxes and profits.
In fact single-pilot operations could actually make commercial airlines less viable because fewer passengers may fly when safety is reduced by removing the second pilot.
So on behalf of the travelling public, my fellow pilots and I will be pushing hard to prevent single-pilot airline flights from ever taking off.
Tony Lucas is an A330 Training Captain and President of the Australian and International Pilots Association
News Source: www.skynews.com.au