Europe’s aviation regulator said it is considering permitting limited single-person function for some flights as early as 2027, despite the industry’s demand to allow planes to be manned by just a pilot by 2030.
Airbus SE (AIR.PA) and Dassault Aviation SA (AM.PA), two European aircraft manufacturers, have proposed solo flight during the cruise phase, which is less demanding than landing and takeoff when at least 2 pilots would still need to be in the cockpit.
The regulator is currently debating this proposal.
Previously unreleased information provided by Andrea Boiardi, a manager with the regulatory body, suggested the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the proposal included restrictions such as prohibiting pilots with health conditions or too few hours of expertise from being solo in the cockpit.
Since the modification of requirements would allow pilots to take breaks during lengthy flights without replacements on board, the aviation industry hopes that solo flying will help alleviate a difficult labour crisis.
However, Boiardi claimed that a prior industry plan for sole-pilot flying by 2030 was utterly unfeasible since automation had not evolved sufficiently and solo flight required a degree of safety comparable to currently operating aircraft.
Even on a cruise, solo flights require permission from the International Civil Aviation Organization, based in United Nations, the various airlines, and their pilot unions.
Early this year, the U.N. organisation is anticipated to start looking into the matter.
Only the most cutting-edge aircraft, outfitted with a higher safety level than necessary by basic certification standards, as per Boiardi, could be used for solo flights on cruise. Airbus A350s and possibly Boeing (BA.N) 787s and 777Xs would be among them.
In the first in-depth discussion EASA has provided on the subject, Boiardi stated that EASA was looking for feedback on the issue from airlines or pilots in a process that was anticipated to end in March.
The less ambitious plan for solo flight in cruise, which wouldn’t begin until 2027, would focus initially on better pilot rest during routine flights, he said. Instead of taking a brief, unplanned nap on the flight deck, a weary pilot could arrange to spend the night in a bunk.
Boiardi noted that if safety was established, long-haul crews that currently required three or four pilots might eventually be reduced to two, with both being in the cockpit for take-off and landing.
However, even a little bit of solo flying is separating airlines, inciting public apprehension, and provoking a growing pushback among pilot organisations like the European Cockpit Association.
Tim Perry, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Canada, stated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) & Transport Canada are well aware of the view that two pilots on the control deck are the safest.
The FAA chose not to respond. Asserting that it would “watch developments,” Transport Canada
Air France’s chief executive Anne Rigail stated that single-pilot flights were not a priority, despite Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK) having discussions with manufacturers concerning reduced-crew operations.
An A350 utilised for single-pilot flight in cruise, according to a source knowledgeable with the project at Airbus, would have additional automatic safeguards against dangers like fire and engine failure and would continue to operate with the autopilot in more situations than it does now.
Airbus stated in a statement that while it wasn’t considering solely single-pilot flights, it was looking into the idea of a single pilot during the cruise phase.
While Boeing sent inquiries to authorities, Dassault declined to comment on the demands.
Boiardi said that there was no distinction between passenger and freight flights in the concepts under consideration. However, industry leaders warned that if consumers resisted single-pilot flying, it might begin with cargo flights.