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Please hear me out, I'm a student in Southampton university studying civil engineering. I am currently doing my dissertation on the possibility of the single pilot concept in the airline industry. I am hoping that you may have a valuable opinion on a certain matter that I will explain in due course.
Basically I was hoping you might give an opinion on whether you think the future of the airline industry would benefit from moving towards a single pilot in the cockpit as apposed to the current 2-man crew (Pilot and first officer)? This scenario is already common place in the military with success, however the scenario for smaller commercial airlines is a little different in the respect that you are dealing with paying clients, therefore the risk factor is increased as it would be in the media domain; therefore highly accountable. The airline industry, particularly the freight industry, are always looking for ways to reduce operating costs, and uptill now this has been done by re-designing plane/automation/progressive de-crewing, but has plateaued recently, and with the ever-increasing fuel costs; it is now becoming critical that further costs be reduced to maintain the same level of service/profit.
The possible scenarios can be simplified into 2 options: Option 1 involves simply displacing the first officer to a 'ground-based' support crew with advanced data-links whereby the plane, if necessary can be controlled from the ground in the case of pilot incapacitation. While also maintaining vital communication to help perform the tasks otherwise done by the first officer (but on the ground). The technology for this solution is already readily available but the technique has not yet been tested for it would require advanced pilot simulation with 'actual' pilots to do so effectively. How would you see this as a possible scenario in the future?
Option 2 is making use of more advanced automation that is dynamic, i.e. the pilot can choose between different levels of automation within the plane, e.g. level 1 little input by automation, most tasks performed by the pilot, or level 5: all tasks performed by automation (at times of high workload). The technology is still in the process of being developed for this option so it's going to be a while yet before it can be tested, however current automation isn't currently loved by many pilots as it is making the role of pilot less hands on and more monitor and observe.
It is likely that current practicing pilots' will not welcome this direction as it could potentially halve the number of pilots required. But it must be seen that the potential to improve flight safety is significant, seeing as >80% of airline accidents are directly related to human error. My question is, as current pilots; how would you see this advancement in the airline industry? How do you think it would be received by your colleagues? Do you have an unbiased opinion based on the practicalities of either options? For there is disadvantages to both options... Freight travel could be the first to try this concept before it is rolled out into the short haul airline industry seeing as there is less responsibility/risk. LONG Haul flights are a completely different matter though. And current regulation is likely to be the real stumbling block to this progression. But the regulations I'm not focusing on in this study; but only the validity of the concept - is it really feasible and a good solution to the problem? UAV could be the ultimate goal, but under UAV conditions, surely the Hudson River outcome would have been different?! Of course you could decide that this is just yet another student with yet another survey... And I can completely empathize, however I would really appreciate any opinion you may be able to give to help me to write my report to account for current pilot's viewpoints. I feel I cannot accurately discuss the validity of the single-pilot concept without some outside opinion... I realise you may not be a commercial pilot, but any currently practicing pilot will be highly useful.
If you managed to read through all that and not get bored, thankyou; I would greatly appreciate any feedback/opnions you may be able to give...
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