According to Reuters, Cathay Pacific Airways is currently working with Airbus on Project Connect, a plan to introduce “reduced crew” long-haul flights with a single pilot in the cockpit much of the time. Though Cathay has not given a final go-ahead to the single-pilot idea, the airline hopes to introduce it during high-altitude cruise on passenger flights by 2025. “Once cleared, longer flights would become possible with a pair of pilots alternating rest breaks, instead of the three or four currently needed to maintain at least two in the cockpit.” EASA chief Patrick Ky told a German press briefing in January, “Typically on long-haul flights when you’re at cruise altitude there’s very little happening in the cockpit.” Famously, Air France 447 was in level cruise flight at night when the two pilots of the A330 lost control of the airplane. That accident claimed 228 lives.
The airlines have been flying with two pilots for nearly 50 years since regulators allowed the elimination of the flight engineer position. Labor unions are not expected to roll over on a shift that would leave just one pilot in the cockpit alone, with only the aircraft’s technology to assist them. The wire service admits gaining both regulatory and labor approval will create some pretty tall hurdles. The airlines see Project Connect as a practical way to save money, though the carrier admits it can only work if there is “absolutely no compromise on safety.” A precursor to approval must include extensive testing, regulatory approval and pilot training.
“We struggle to understand the rationale,” said Otjan de Bruijn, head of the European Cockpit Association representing EU pilots, while Airbus’ chief test pilot Christophe Cail said, “We’ve proven over decades we can enhance safety by putting the latest technology in aircraft. As for any design evolution, we are working with airlines.”