Pilot Groups Raise Alarm About the Push for One-Person Cockpits on Flights

By Mathieu Dion | May 5, 2023

Global pilot organizations called on regulators to continue requiring multiple aviators on commercial flights, saying that efforts to shrink to one-person crews risks passenger safety.

Leaders of groups including the European Cockpit Association and Air Line Pilots Association International on Thursday detailed plans to fight what they called a profit-driven push by some manufacturers and airlines to add technology that could replace human pilots. Airbus SE has conducted research with Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. to increase automation on the Airbus A350 to potentially allow a pilot to rest while leaving one person in the cockpit, according to Reuters.

“There is no replacement for the skills and experience for at least two pilots at the controls of the flight deck,” Jack Netskar, president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, said in a press conference in Montreal. “There’s a million different things that could go wrong and we can give you a million examples why it didn’t go wrong because of the two pilots. There’s no compromise.”

To be sure, there are steep hurdles to significantly change crew sizes in major aviation markets. Under existing regulations, for example, manufacturers would have to prove that an accident due to a disabled pilot would be essentially impossible.

Still, the groups said the growing use of automation technology and advances in artificial intelligence introduce risks.

“AI doesn’t have context, AI doesn’t have experience,” Netskar said.

Read more: Airlines Push for Lone Pilot Flights Despite Safety Concerns

There were two working papers submitted on this topic at last fall’s assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN aviation standards body, but countries didn’t agree on any related resolutions at that time, spokesperson Robert William Raillant-Clark said in an email. He declined to “speculate on potential outcomes of any current or future negotiations by regulators here.”

–With assistance from Alan Levin.

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