The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has proposed that future flights will only require one pilot. In a working document sent to the International Civil Aviation Organization, EASA calls for the necessary catalysts to be created to optimize commercial flights by reducing the crew. The idea is that ultimately only one pilot is needed to perform the operation in the cockpit.
services could begin in 2027
The document, titled “An Approach to New Concepts that Involve Extended Minimum Crew Operations and Single Pilot Operations,” details the steps needed to achieve a transition to this class of flight. EASA mentions that one of the factors motivating the proposal is the reduction of operating costs. Airlines would only need one trained pilot, solving the crew shortage they faced last summer.
More than 40 countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, have asked the United Nations body that sets aviation standards to help make single-pilot flying a safe reality. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency also worked with aircraft manufacturers to determine how solo flights would work and prepare rules to oversee them. EASA said these services could begin in 2027.
The problem is that to carry out an operation with the minimum of personnel, multiple adjustments must be made on all fronts. EASA predicts that aircraft manufacturers will need to work on new cockpit designs that ensure safe single-pilot operation. For their part, regulators should review the current regulations and adapt them, as long as there is full confidence that the crew and passengers will arrive safely at their destination.
“The development of aviation has been inextricably linked to technological progress. Despite the exponential growth of air transport over the past century, the accident rate has gradually declined,” says EASA. The European agency mentions that the combination of technological advances and better human performance has helped to make commercial flights the safest means of transport.
Planes with one pilot require a paradigm shift
The EASA plan mentions two important concepts: Extended Minimal Crew Operations (eMCO) and Single Pilot Operations (SPO). The first contemplates the operation of a single pilot during the cruise phase, while the second implies a complete flight piloted by one person. The document focuses on the changes that must be made to affect the eMCO, which would eventually lead to the SiPO.
For EASA, the advances in autonomy that exist in the automotive industry are key to single-pilot flights. “Aircraft manufacturers have been quick to take advantage of the increased reliability and precision of automated systems,” he says. Despite advances in automation, pilot training has not changed and remains with stick and rudder skills.
According to the European agency, in order to reach flights with a reduced crew, a paradigm shift is necessary. “This inevitably implies a change in the role of the pilot, to become a systems administrator, rather than a physical pilot,” the EASA states. The problem is that this would translate into increased risk during the first phase of this transition.
Single-pilot flights would be necessary as the industry will experience a shortage of certified personnel in the next 20 years. Pilots will have to evolve and train to fly alone in the cockpit. This will lead to the certification of other professionals, such as communications personnel and trained doctors.
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