EASA looks into possibility of single-pilot flight operations for commercial air transport

European aviation regulator EASA is looking into the possibility to start single-pilot flight operations. In a ICAO working paper, EASA requested – on behalf of member states – that the “necessary enablers” be created “for a safe and globally harmonized introduction of commercial air transport (CAT) operations of large aircraft with optimised crew/single-pilot operations while ensuring an equivalent or higher level of safety compared to that achieved in current operations.”

While manufacturers are confident about the implementation, pilot associations are more cautious. What in case of an incapacitation ? How about a toilet break ? And will passengers and cabin crew members feel confident?

Next to tackling pilot shortages, the single-pilot concept should also see a reduction in operating costs, the working paper mentioned, but “Potential additional costs related to higher-level ground support and two-way communications should also be considered. On the aircraft manufacturer side, the development and certification of new cockpit designs and associated systems may require significant investment, although these will likely produce safety benefits and savings in the medium/long term.

The objectives

  • assess the issues and the feasibility of the implementation of eMCOs in the EU regulatory framework by 2025 by developing a reference risk-assessment framework and investigating a series of key safety hazards and mitigations listed in this document;
  • assess the issues and the feasibility of the implementation of SiPOs in the EU regulatory framework by 2030 through a preliminary analysis of the related main safety hazards.

The main tasks and deliverables will address the following critical areas

  • Pilot workload: Ensure that the workload of the single-pilot during the cruise phase of the flight is acceptable in normal, abnormal, and non-normal operations.
  • Pilot error: Ensure that the cockpit design is appropriately tolerant of errors, noting that when operating as single-pilot, there is no scope for cross-checking actions by another pilot.
  • Pilot incapacitation: Detect whether the single-pilot during the cruise phase of the flight is no longer fit to fly. Ensure that the level of safety remains acceptable in case of pilot Incapacitation.
  • Fatigue: Ensure that the level of fatigue remains at least as acceptable as for conventional two-pilot operations.
  • Sleep inertia: Ensure resilience of the aircraft and of the operational environment for the time required for the resting pilot to recover sufficiently from the effects of sleep inertia that they can either take command of the aircraft and continue to a safe landing in case of incapacitation of the pilot-flying or be able to assist the pilot-flying with a complex failure scenario.
  • Breaks due to physiological needs: Allow the single-pilot to temporarily leave their station to attend to their physiological needs during an eMCO segment of the flight while ensuring an acceptable level of safety and security.

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Bart has been working in the Belgian aviation industry since 1996. In 2021, he became a voluntary firefighter/EMT. He is spending his free time with his rugrats, girlfriend, family and friends. He loves to travel, wines and dines and supports his favourite football squad KV Mechelen. He is an Ironman 70.3 finisher and dreams of completing a full distance.

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