Having a pilot in the cockpit is a terrible idea

In five seconds, the Airbus A330 experienced forces equal to 0.8 times negative gravity increasing to 1.56G, which must first have looked like falling from a roller coaster followed by more acceleration. faster than a sports car. It was a heartbreaking experience that left over 100 injured.

When the flight computer turned “psychological,” as Captain Kevin Sullivan would later describe, he had the second officer by his side and the first officer was already heading for the cockpit. He needed it. Three minutes later, the aircraft pitched down again and fell 400 feet in 15 seconds, with the pilots working together to resolve the issue.

Fortunately for the passengers and crew of this October 2008 flight, the cockpit consisted of two pilots. Reducing flight crews to one pilot for most of a flight would likely mean an entirely different outcome.

However, this is what Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. works with Airbus SE, Reuters reported last week. The increased automation available on the Airbus A350 would allow a pilot to take a break while leaving only one in the cockpit. This would reduce manpower on a long-haul flight from two crews of two pilots each, who usually rotate teams, to three pilots in total, or even less.

The push towards so-called single-pilot operations has intensified over the past decade, as the booming demand for air travel has been met with a chronic shortage of skilled airmen. The world must train an additional 550,000 pilots by 2037, according to a 2018 study by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and consultancy firm Oliver Wyman expects a deficit of 35,000 by 2025.

This pressure will be particularly intense as financially struggling airlines attempt to rebuild themselves after the Covid-19 pandemic, which has imposed new debt on them of more than $ 220 billion as operating costs have exceeded 50 billion dollars. % income.

It’s easy to see why cutting down on flight attendants can be tempting: for most flights, sky travel is relatively straightforward. Most of the pilots’ work is done during the take-off and landing phases, which are also statistically the most dangerous. Technology has already enabled airlines to dispense with the radio operator, navigator and flight engineer to create the modern two-person cockpit. Along with autopilot in cruise, automated landing systems are also now a routine feature used in thick fog, while the A350 will guide itself at a lower altitude if cabin pressure is lost. Saving a single pilot in command with a ground operator could be the next logical step.

Statistically, this seems reasonable. But aviation safety is not a question of averages. It must be built around extreme cases, one-off unthinkable scenarios where pilots must work together to solve a problem. One of the most famous and haunting of these occurred in 1990 when the cockpit window of a British Airways jet exploded at high altitude, partially sucking up the pilot and forcing the flight attendants and cabin crew clinging to the captain while another landed the plane. When Qantas Flight 32 suffered an engine explosion in November 2010, fuel leaked from one wing then occurred, the entire flight deck helped resolve the issue and arranged for a landing in safe in singapore. Pilot incapacity is a relatively common occurrence, occurring once a month or more in most major aviation markets.

Even when the crew does not need to physically save their co-pilots, having a second set of eyes can be essential. Emergencies happen and need to be resolved quickly – and when something goes wrong, the crew must act quickly and communicate effectively under conditions of great uncertainty. It took a little over four minutes between the detection of the first problems on Air France flight 447 to Rio de Janeiro from Paris in June 2009 and the collision of the A330 in the Atlantic Ocean, causing 228 dead.

Skimping on pilot downtime could also make it more difficult for them to withstand the cognitive loads needed to fly safely. In October 2009, a Delta Airlines flight landed on the taxiway in Atlanta, instead of the runway, as the pilots became disoriented. No one was injured, but investigators later pointed to fatigue as a key contributing factor.

The fanatical aviation safety culture has a record to be proud of. Despite more than 37 million commercial departures in 2019 – nearly double the level two decades earlier – the types of flight accidents people worry about are thankfully rare. Globally, there have been only 18 cases of planes losing control or crashing into the ground in the five years up to 2019. Where the ground rules are followed, even synonymous countries risky flights like Indonesia are improving rapidly.

However, in an attempt to bring passengers back in flying metal tubes in the aftermath of a pandemic, they will need to be assured that these safety standards will continue to be met. Automation is not always the best solution to this. It has been just over two years since the latest model of the world’s most popular aircraft, the Boeing Co. 737, was grounded due to problems with its automated control systems that claimed 346 lives. As much as a cash-strapped airline industry would like to cut crew costs right now, giving up the pilot would be a reckless decision.

This story was posted from an agency feed with no text editing.

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