Only one pilot in the cockpit of Airbus and Boeing, is it inevitable?

Airbus is working on the commercial cruising of the cockpit (in the cruising phase) around 2023. While technology is allowed to ensure the safety of air transport at a very high level of safety, this stage of automation is not without asking questions. Paris Air Forum, organized by La Tribune, which will take place on June 14th. The following spoke: Patrick Cipriani, Director of Security at the DGAC, Vincent Gilles, Captain, and Pierre Vellay, CEO of New and Next Consulting.

While flying taxi projects were easy throughout the day, the issue of switching to a single pilot in the cockpit of commercial cruising aircraft will be the next major advance in commercial aviation. 737 MAX with its anti-stall system to discuss the dangers of poorly controlled automation, this revolution is possible. Notably at Airbus, which offers this possibility in 2023 on the A350, as announced last year at La Tribune.

“Airbus has reduced the number of pilots on long-haul A350 flights with a service commissioned in 2023,” says one in the aircraft manufacturer.

The calendar has not changed. Jean-Brice Dumont, his director of engineering, confirmed his colleagues at the Usine Nouvelle:

“We are testing all the technologies needed to communicate with this subject,” he said.

Or, in 2023, we decided to certify such a project at an advanced stage and from the moment the certificate was authenticated. B737 MAX behind them, it will not be subject to certification. It remains to be seen how long it has been. With the two fatal accidents of the B737 MAX, that of Lion in October 2018 and that of Ethiopian Airlines in March 2019, the certification rules will be strengthened. And the training of the pilots also to cross this new march of aviation.

Enhanced automation
As Grazia Vittadini, Airbus’ technical director, said during the aircraft manufacturer’s innovation day on May 21-22, Airbus reports on the automation developed for autonomous flying objects for arrive at the concept of “Operations with a single pilot (SPO)”.

“We are developing a disrupted cockpit in Toulouse. Our ambition is to develop more and more automated systems that allow for security. Automation has positive effects on safety, “she said, recalling the absence of any fatal accidents in 2017 in commercial aviation.

The addition of technologies has reduced the number of sailors in the cockpit
While at the end of the 50’s and the beginning of the 60’s, the crews included 4 or 5 people in the cockpit (two pilots, a mechanic, a navigator, a radio manager), they passed to two pilots in the 80’s What remains today the norm. However, on long-haul flights, the crew is reinforced according to the duration of the flight (three or four pilots on very long haul) and the practices of some airlines. In the North Atlantic, for example, Air France has two pilots when American airlines have three.

Organization of rest on board
Proponents of the transition to a pilot in the cockpit believe that the question of the presence of two pilots in the cockpit arises in a cruising phase “where the systems are essentially monitored” and that by lightening tomorrow the tasks of the crew by transferring some of them to “the machine”, this presence of two pilots is no longer necessary. This in the cruise phases only.

“In cruise why not, but not for landing approaches a little complex,” says a test pilot, nevertheless skeptical.

According to the supporters of the “Single Pilot Operation (SPO)”, having only one pilot in the cockpit cruising while the other would rest would better organize rest times

“With two pilots on board, we can structure the nap. Not all companies have a tactical nap system. This is one of the elements that companies look at, “says one at Airbus.

In addition, they say, the reduction in the number of pilots on board allows each pilot to do more take-offs and landings and thus to combat a problem of competence observed on pilots of reinforced crew flights.

Fewer drivers, less wages
The airlines are obviously very attentive to such a project considered safer by their promoters and more economical since it would reduce the payroll of pilots (one billion euros to Air France, a quarter of the global mass for example ). It would also help to find a parade to the shortage of pilots in the world. According to Airbus and Boeing, airlines will need more than 500,000 new pilots over the next twenty years.

A shortage that poses a problem for companies because it causes an increase in the salaries of pilots but also, in some regions of the world, training problems. However, it may take a little time to avoid hitting their drivers. The oldest ones all remember the passage of three to two pilots in the cockpits of Air France in the 80s.

“We are in sub-activity cruising, it’s obvious. However, we must be able to respond to the immediacy of a degraded situation. The pilots are there for that. The human being has a reaction capacity and a level of finesse that the machine does not have, but he makes mistakes, “explains a captain, who wonders how a single pilot can handle a sudden deterioration situation in situation stress the time that the captain does not come back from his berth, including the principle of cross check.

Beyond all these issues, the concern of the pilots takes on other forms that have little to do with flight safety. In particular, the financing, in France, of sailors’ pensions. If there are fewer pilots, there is de facto “fewer contributors to the CRPN (pension fund of seafarers),” says a pilot.

The transition to a pilot in the cockpit will, potentially, be the last step before the autonomous aircraft. A subject that irritates pilots, including the less reluctant to “SPO”. Obviously, even if the call for technology has made air transport very safe, the issue of passenger acceptance will obviously arise from the SPO. That’s why the experts see the first deployments on cargo aircraft.

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