View Full Version : You knew it was only a matter of time...

28th May 2013, 07:06
Article from Forbes.com, 27May13
Would You Fly On An Airliner With Just One Pilot?

A big new European research programme has begun to look at the possibility of a single-pilot flight deck for commercial operations.

The project is called ACROSS (‘Advanced Cockpit for Reduction of StreSs and workload’). Funded by the European Commission and others to the tune of €30 million, it brings together a consortium of 35 industry and research partners, including heavy hitters like Thales, Airbus and Boeing.

It is a response to two apparently contradictory pressures. On the one hand, crew performance is a major limitation in air transport safety. In other words, pilot error causes a lot of crashes. On the other hand, airlines would like to reduce pilot costs. For example, instead of sending four pilots on a long-haul flight, they could send just two; one flying and one ‘in reserve’.

The traditional answer to pilot error has been to have two pilots monitoring one another according to agreed standard operating procedures and crew resource management techniques. The ACROSS project is looking to replace the second pilot (at least temporarily) with automated systems. In particular, it will investigate advanced avionics to allow pilots to cope with peak workloads and deal with crew incapacitation.

It’s a common joke among pilots that 99% of the time they’re massively overpaid. The job is easy and routine, especially with today’s highly automated cockpits. But 1% of the time, you can’t pay them enough because of an emergency, bad weather or other critical situation. This is where it really helps to have two pilots and so these are the areas where Across needs to deliver.

In the first instance, the project is looking at allowing single pilot operation to give crew members a chance to rest or to help a single remaining pilot land the plane in case her co-pilot is incapacitated. Beyond that, the roadmap is clearly towards single-pilot operations.

As a private pilot operating non-commercial flights, I fly single-pilot all the time. I’m based near London so busy airspace is the norm for me and I regularly fly into Amsterdam Schiphol, which is a very high workload airport. But I don’t have to do it at night or in bad weather if I don’t want to. And I do it at my own risk.
However, when I’m not in the pilot’s seat, my personal preference would be for two very well-trained crew members but I’d also like them to have the latest and best avionics. There’s no doubt that TCAS and TAWS (two recent avionics innovations) have reduced the number of mid-air collisions and avoidable crashes over the last two decades. What if we can achieve the same improve again with better avionics? So I welcome this initiative.

But is the travelling public ready for single pilot commercial operations? How would you react if you knew your plane had a super-advanced autopilot and the very latest safety systems but just one pilot? What if the ticket price was cheaper?

28th May 2013, 07:24
Good questions.

I think that the answer is "not yet" not "never."

28th May 2013, 07:27
Or how about no pilots ? (Not yet, not never)

Pilotless Flight Trial in UK Shared Airspace (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22511408)

Successful ''Pilotless'' Flight Trial (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22511395)

28th May 2013, 07:33
As a private pilot operating non-commercial flights

So he/she is really qualified to write this article?

Typical journo article - this sort of thing is decades away - far too many variables and there is the big issue of whether passengers would be happy with only one pilot up the sharp end.

I suppose the only bonus is that the media would still be able to bandy about the term "pilot error" in the event of an accident.

28th May 2013, 07:42
this sort of thing is decades away

Except maybe not?

Embraer reveals vision for single pilot airliners (http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/embraer-reveals-vision-for-single-pilot-airliners-343348/)

one post only!
28th May 2013, 07:49
A single pilot airliner doing a circling approach for a runway on an island surrounded by terrain with questionable ATC on a dark and dirty night.....yeah good luck with that.

28th May 2013, 07:52
Regrettably it is all about statistics. It has long been established that there is an 'acceptable' level of loss of life in the transportation world, and I assume that as long as the systems can produce a level of loss of life below that bar with one or no 'pilots', it will happen some day. When the crash does happen, the outrage of posters on aviation forums and the media will be a torrent, but eventually the flood will subside and it will become 'history'.

Mind you, reading some of the aviation incident/accident reports of late, I wonder if we are actually better off with 'flesh' in the cockpit:sad:

28th May 2013, 07:55
A great many airlines run successful P2F schemes, utilising the ,up until recently, un-tapped right seat in the flight deck. So apart filling column inches, the journalists seem to be 10 years behind the game.

Infact if I were a P2F airline, I would be asking to increase the number of seats in the flight deck, thus increasing my revenue possibilities with more than one P2F candidate per flight. With FBW and a little joystick, this would be quite easy to achieve technically and lower seat prices for the SLF. :eek:

blue up
28th May 2013, 08:04
When Toyota can build a car that will never need a 'Recall', when BEKO can build a washing Machine that doesn't catch fire, when Microsoft can make a computer that doesn't crash and when Tom-Tom can make a GPS that doesn't send you down non-existent roads....maybe then I'd think about getting on a single crew long-haul airliner. In other words, never.

For goodness' sake, we can't even invent a toaster that can do 2 slices of bread with equal browning on both sides!

28th May 2013, 08:18
For goodness' sake, we can't even invent a toaster that can do 2 slices of bread with equal browning on both sides!Ah, but we did, about 60 years ago:


Worth noting that these were purely electro-mechanical (bi-metallic strip timer ensuring a succession of consistently toasted slices). Not a trace of fly-by-wire, maybe there's a lesson to be learnt there. :O

Heathrow Harry
28th May 2013, 08:23
Like it or not it has to be said that a large proportion of accidents involve humans making the wrong decision, or no decision at all (Bali anyone?)

Similarly systems make errors (often due to an incorrect set of assumptions)

the question is at what point do additional systems reduce the error & risk below that of the current two pilot operation? Given the steady advances in computing power it will definitely happen one day and we will look back on the idea that the 'plane had the OPTION of descending below decision altitude with no runway visible with absolute disbelief

I was never a great supporter of the idea of three pilots or two pilots and an FE were absolutely necessary but I certainly was very worried about ETOPS in twins

Technology moves the goal posts I'm afraid and we'd better realise it and start planning -

28th May 2013, 08:30
Single pilot uh?
Can the hi-tech prevent a heart attack? no, so 2 pilots seems to be the minimum...just in case.
What about no pilots at all?
who´s gonna be blamed in case of an accident....

Keep calm guys....thing will be the same in the future.....oh wait...just lower salaries.

28th May 2013, 08:34
As I said, the Right Seat of an Airliner is the biggest revenue generator of all the seats onboard. Why would you remove it? youngsters are paying €30,000 to sit in it, therefore it is revenue positive at €33.33 euros an hour. (if 900 hours are flown and there is never ending number of candidates). Rather than a cost to the business if a qualified co-pilot is employed, with taxes and social security costs, only if this was mandatory would there be a requirement to engineer the aeroplane fir single pilot operations.

ATC Watcher
28th May 2013, 08:40
The title of the article is a bit misleading. What will happen sooner than later I was told is allowing one pilot to do the cruise,while the other is resting on long haul flights, thus eliminating the need to carry reserve crews .
Once technology is mature to do this, you can guess where that will lead.

On the other hand having heard Capt Richard de Crespigny account of the QF A380 emergency dealing in SIN 3 years ago, I am glad they were so many in the cockpit then.

28th May 2013, 08:53
Two pilots are a good idea for take off and landing

At all other times they are just trying to keep each other from falling asleep and not always successfully.

28th May 2013, 09:05
The airbus mentality was always that the pilots should let the autopilot 'take the strain' whenever possible. As the computers took all votes from flying surfaces to the pilot input and then democratically (in a French way) allocated the control surfaces, in whatever magical way it did, to what the computers considered best the A/P is considered king.

Now picture a dark :mad: night approach into Berlin. We elected to keep the A/P in for the approach as it would 'aid SA' in good trainers parlance. So, imagine our surprise when the A/P flew through a squall line (no option, the line was over 150 miles long), rolled to 65 degrees AOB and automatically activated the A/P disconnect as we rapidly passed various limits!

Luckily we were already in the process of overriding the A/P as it rapidly rolled past 45 degrees so the disconnect was inevitable. Now take away the second pair of eyes or even the first pair of eyes and allow the software engineers to dictate what is or isn't acceptable. Frightening. Remember, with protections Airbus shouldn't exceed 30 AOB.

I'm approaching the end of my flying career and I don't envy those who take what was once a profession forward as a 'job'. Personally I won't be getting on an aircraft with <2 pilots (even if the child of the magenta line in the RHS has paid more for their seat than I have for mine! :E:{)

28th May 2013, 09:11
I thought single pilot ops into Schiphol were not allowed. I have done it myself back in the 80's and after the fact with a review of the rules and regs seemed to remember either I shouldn't have or would not be able to in the future.
It was some time ago so the above might be :mad:.

28th May 2013, 09:16
And thats why you always need 2!

God, on I night LCA I'm lucky if I can stay awake in the descent, let alone the cruise. A single pilot would need one of those bits of kit that sense if you are nodding of in your car, except connect to 240v.

I'm sure this idea will appeal to certain segments of the LoCo management:mad:

ATC Watcher
28th May 2013, 09:25
quote : I thought single pilot ops into Schiphol were not allowed.
I flew a few years ago VFR single pilot (in a single seat aircraft) into SPL. no problem.
maybe things changed recently, but looking at their AIP on line , I see VFR are still allowed and no mention of single pilots ops, not even in IFR.
check here :
EHAM (http://www.ais-netherlands.nl/aim/2013-03-21-AIRAC/eAIP/html/eAIP/EH-AD-2.EHAM-en-GB.html)

28th May 2013, 09:36
Heathrow Harry, "Quote:- "I was never a great supporter of the idea of three pilots or two pilots and an FE were absolutely necessary ...."

Absolutely correct, one Pilot and one Flight Engineer was sufficient. ;)

Standing by!

28th May 2013, 10:06
As I said, the Right Seat of an Airliner is the biggest revenue generator of all the seats onboard. Why would you remove it?

That's because in the future there won't be an steady, continuous supply of dreamers willing to fork out 30K Euros for P2F schemes, especially with deteriorating career prospects caused by increased automation. People starting out right now in their 20s could potentially have to endure 50 years in the industry if the retirement age rises to 70 or even 75, so the possibility of single pilot operations (and huge job losses) becomes very real. This is already happening in the US where the dropout rate for student pilots is about 70% to 80%, and one reason you could say for this is the diminishing return on investment of even a basic pilot's license, let alone P2F.

Plus you have to think about the motivations of the beancounters who are looking at cost reductions in the long run. Also they generally don't like pilots or unions.

Ancient Observer
28th May 2013, 10:09
It's a great opportunity for dog trainers.

The dog occupies the rhs and bites the pilot when he falls asleep.

28th May 2013, 10:30
I thought todays 3rd Level Airliners had First Officers who had to PAY to fly in the right seat.!!!!!!Anyway
Effing Computers do NOT have Mortgages,Wifes(Or Mistresses!),Children,Grandchildren or a firmly developed yellow streak down their back from years and years of flying experience,that gives the Experienced Captain a sixth sense Anticipation that not only will keep him alive ,but the rest of the crew and passengers.Just imagine another AF447 scenario with a fully automated non human flight deck.When I did an Airbus 320 sim check with Caledonian in the mid 90s,the Interview Board asked me what else I would like to have in the cockpit?I told them I really wanted a BIG red lever that said "I have control",not squiggly wires in natural law,or whatever they called basic aeroplane computer flying!!!!

28th May 2013, 10:33
I was told many years ago that the cockpit of the future would consist of one Pilot and a Dog. The Pilot would be there to reassure the passengers and feed the Dog, the Dog would be there to bite the Pilot if he tried to touch anything.:E

28th May 2013, 11:02
1. Modern glass-cockpit jets are flown single-pilot now - witness the Citation Ultra or CJ.


2. Single pilot ops requires a VERY competent, talented, experienced captain. So... where are we going to train future captains, if not in the right seat?

As I've said for years here at PPrune, I'll start worrying when the freight trains running by my house reduce their crew complement - currently two...

blue up
28th May 2013, 11:09
DaveReidUK (post number 10).

I forwarded your message to Boeing. They've replied that the 787 battery system has proven to be more than capable of toasting Bread, Muffins and even a Kelloggs Pop Tart. Carbon Fibre has proven to be marginally less successful but the new stainless steel box will gentle radiate enough heat to toast a slice of Kingsmill Nutty Brown at a range of 5 feet (and is also rated for frying a slice for breakfast should the need arise.)
With 2 crew it should be possible to get the FO to slap the bread down, race back to the flightdeck, make a radio call, perform a fuel check and still be back in time to prevent the same sort of light scorching shown in those NTSB photos.

Heathrow Harry
28th May 2013, 11:18
FE rtd wrote:-

"Heathrow Harry, "Quote:- "I was never a great supporter of the idea of three pilots or two pilots and an FE were absolutely necessary ...."

Absolutely correct, one Pilot and one Flight Engineer was sufficient. http://images.ibsrv.net/ibsrv/res/src:www.pprune.org/get/images/smilies/wink2.gif

Standing by! "

Every FE I know/knew always thought that the pilots were only there to make announcements and walk about about the cabin impressing the ignorant SLF with their gleaming teeth and perfect haircuts

Heathrow Harry
28th May 2013, 11:23
"that gives the Experienced Captain a sixth sense Anticipation that not only will keep him alive"

unfortunately it also gives him the sense that he can do the impossible - if it were not so why do so many experienced pilots commit dreadful errors?

I bet that aircrew today are as good airmen as they were 50 years ago - but the accident rate is way down - because of the increased use of technology. The drive to add technology, which is relatively predictable, and replace humans, who are not always predictable, will eventually lead to 1 pilot operations - maybe in 20 years ............. possibly the 737 replacement ......

28th May 2013, 11:29
I'll start worrying when the freight trains running by my house reduce their crew complement - currently two...

But the US military isn't spending billions on driverless trains, compared with what they're currently doing with drone technology. Whatever technology the US military can come up with will eventually end up in the civilian sector, usually through the defence contractors, such as.......Boeing.

28th May 2013, 11:33
Obviously designing an airliner to be flown single pilot would be pretty easy - that tech already exists and the loss of safety that entailed from a human factors point of view could be mitigated to a certain extent by more innovative flight deck and avionics design.

However presumably in order for the travelling public to accept single pilot operations there would have to be a system whereby a computer or human monitored a number of flights and was ready to take over in the event of one of the pilots being incapacitated. An actual viable monitoring system like that could be used in real airline service is probably still a long way off.

The system would also have to be able to react very quickly in the event of something happening to the pilot at a critical moment like take off or landing - perhaps that problem could be surmounted by making all take offs and landings automatic.

Just having a single pilot airliner with no back up at all is not something the travelling public would accept...I would have thought.

28th May 2013, 12:16
if I understand correctly the research proposes that on long haul the sleeping pilot is woken up and asked to help out when things get interesting. Isn't that sort of what happened to AF447 only there was already two up front.

28th May 2013, 13:47
I'm surprised AF447 is used as an example, as it would not have crashed if there had not been a second officer on board pulling the stick backwards when the AP disengaged...

28th May 2013, 14:47
Just out of interest - What would a system do, on its own, if the cowling came off of one of the engines?

28th May 2013, 15:50
Aaah - this old chestnut. Just a skim through www.avherald.com (http://www.avherald.com) and you could easily see the lives that could potentially be lost should the flight deck complement be reduced from what it is today. As for those who dream about pilotless flight decks - dream on! Just in the last few years, thousands of lives would have been lost without human intervention from those 'on the spot'.

Yes - the industry DOES factor in cost of safety/improvements etc versus cost of lives. That has certainly been the case for many years.

And yes - there is a good amount of human error. But at the end of the day, these same humans save more lives that they cost. I could never say the same for today's aircraft computers.

28th May 2013, 18:07
I'll start worrying when the freight trains running by my house reduce their crew complement - currently two...

The Docklands Light Railway in east London, UK, has been operating driverless trains for some years. The network is 25 miles long with 45 stations and runs seven days a week from 5.30 am to 12.30 am. In the year 2012 it carried 140 million passengers. There is a driving console and staff are available to take over where necessary but normally all journeys are driverless.

Al Murdoch
28th May 2013, 18:36
The Docklands light railway is connected quite firmly to the ground and doesn't do 500mph. The potential for catastrophic loss of life is pretty much zero, given that, in my experience, it struggles to exceed 25 mph.
It seems fairly strange to me that in an age where the technology is being either doubled or tripled in redundancy, we seem to have an endless fascination with halving or removing any human involvement in the process.

28th May 2013, 20:06
Please please dont compare air to rail.

I teach train drivers....Uk rail is a single driver operation. If anything happens to the driver....the train stops; there is sufficient protection built into signalling systems to maintain train separation.

Lets be honest, we are not far away from ground controllers 'tapping' into an aircraft to bring it back home if pilot incapacitation occurs, but as previous posters have mentioned there are way too many variables up there!!


28th May 2013, 20:12
It has an inevitablility about it but is likely to be used in Freight sector first.

It will happen but is a generation away i.e best part of 25 years before it becomes common.

28th May 2013, 20:15
I teach train drivers....Uk rail is a single driver operation. If anything happens to the driver....the train stops; there is sufficient protection built into signalling systems to maintain train separation.

But GPS is now being used to open the doors on trains which bit of a bugger when the signal dies and driver overrides it and does it manually.

28th May 2013, 20:16
As long as the pilot has at least two hearts and two brains, all with automatic functional changeover on failure of one system and independent blood supply which has been tested for contamination on a regular basis.

28th May 2013, 22:49
50 year old captain with the usual stresses and strains of life, mortgage, teen age children, diminishing pension fund etc. checks in for a night departure, weather is flyable but crap, low cloud, gusty wind and rain.

5 knots after V1 he loses an outboard engine, during rotate he has a stress induced heart attack, please describe in some detail how the backup computerised systems will cope, or will they?

29th May 2013, 02:05
I think the rubric of 'single pilot' is a ruse, the program is obviously aimed at achieving autonomous flight. Moreover, as 'racedo' has pointed out earlier, the cargo lines are obvious initial users, they fly at odd hours and would love to rationalize their operations with fully automated cockpits. So there is a clear path to front line service, beginning with the military, then law enforcement, then cargo and eventually passengers. The technical and ATC obstacles are real, which is why Germany has just been forced into a humiliating cancellation of their planned multi billion Euro Hawk drone program. In this context, this 'single pilot' initiative seems simply an admission that the state of the art is not yet there and therefore taxpayers need to pony up to help close the gap. Obviously pilot unions are asleep at the switch, otherwise they might ask what is the purpose of this investment.

29th May 2013, 02:17
I like BACP's comments - single pilot falling asleep....you could sell tickets for that show.
Fully loaded night IFR in a storm with autopilot disconnect sounds like a good excuse for 2 good pilots.
Would you like some like ice with that Pitot sir?

29th May 2013, 06:32
It's really interesting listening to pilots telling us how important they are. And they are, but the technology is not that far off where planes could fly themselves. The X-47B has already done completely autonomous flights from a carrier. Carrier ops are always touted as being the real thing.

For me the more important aspect is an economic one. Cost cutting is the most important thing for every industry. Less people, more machines. And this is one reason the economy is not recovering. There just aren't that many jobs anymore. Many jobs have been replaced by technology or by cheaper labour in China etc.

So just to take the airline industry, check in by computer, baggage loaded and tracked by machine, plane flown by computer. Same thing in nearly all industries.

Now when we are totally people-efficient, who is going to be earning a salary to be able to fly on the planes with no pilots?


29th May 2013, 07:03
Funded by the European Commission and others to the tune of €30 million

You have to be kidding.

29th May 2013, 07:15
5 knots after V1 he loses an outboard engine, during rotate he has a stress induced heart attack, please describe in some detail how the backup computerised systems will cope, or will they? A "standard" V1 eng failure a computer could cope well with. So long as all indications worked correctly i.e. no interpretation / thinking outside the box was required.

You only have to look here at the dangers of single pilot operation (http://www.pprune.org/rumours-news/415912-air-india-express-b738-crash-28.html) where even with a colleague telling him to Go Around he persevered. As a single example it is poor, but think how many like minded pilots have tried to do similar things, but been "rescued" by a lower workload colleague breaking the chain? I've been on both sides of that (being helped, and helping).

29th May 2013, 07:16

So the job is easy is it ? What planet do you live on ?

His dudeness
29th May 2013, 07:32
...puts finger into the real scandal.

Are we surprised that "the industry" tries to eliminate us ? No.

Am I surprised that "we" (the money is tax money after all) found

Quote: "heavy hitters like Thales, Airbus and Boeing"

to do this ?

IMO this would warrant a strike of ALL pilots in the EU.

29th May 2013, 08:06
IMO this would warrant a strike of ALL pilots in the EU.

Pilots working together to improve their situation??! Just seen some pigs go flying past the window!

29th May 2013, 08:53
Personally I would fly with 1 pilot ops!
I have spent many years flying single pilot ops in the worst possible weather conditions, both night and day!
2 pilot ops on a modern day airliner still makes me laugh, NG you only need captain FO can't steer on the ground anyway.
In the air only one flies or really decision maker.
If you fight for control AB logic locks one out anyway.
Bring it on I personally don't care.

29th May 2013, 08:53
They can save even more if they stop building planes with the not at all necessary dual systems. When the system brakes down, the only 64 year old pilot is probably already incapacitated...:ugh:

Don't remember, but what was the site for buying train tickets again ? :ooh:

29th May 2013, 09:06
This one gets trotted out regularly and usually there's someone who points out that most accidents are pilot error. But as rick.shaw points out in his post this is to ignore the reality that almost every day pilots step in when the automatics and the technology fail to cope. I'm sure every Airbus pilot has a 'What's it doing now?' story. Even the AF447 accident was initiated when the the autopilot disconnected in response to turbulence. So much for the automatics. Certainly the human input compounded the the problem. But I daresay when something similar happens again there will be a different result with the benefit of hindsight.

Actually single pilot would effectively mean no pilot. The old joke about the pilot and dog is close enough to the truth. But I think we're a long way from that. The technology is simply not mature enough, not reliable enough and not intelligent enough.

29th May 2013, 09:20
Even the AF447 accident was initiated when the the autopilot disconnected in response to turbulence. So much for the automatics. Certainly the human input compounded the the problem.

Agreed, the human "machine" should have done much better but it's worth remembering that automatics couldn't manage a fairly straightforward sensor failure.

29th May 2013, 10:01
Even the AF447 accident was initiated when the the autopilot disconnected in response to turbulence. So much for the automatics.

Well, not quite actually. The autopilot disconnected due to a loss of air data because of heavy icing clogging up deficient pitot tubes.

I would just love to see someone on the ground handle some of the crap that's been thrown my way in automated airplanes. I wouldn't want my loved ones riding in the back as they tried.

29th May 2013, 10:21
There are several ways of looking at this:

First, "single pilot operations" by the way of flights with a long cruise portion. I can see that happening in 5-10 years, with one guy at the controls and the other taking rest somewhere quiet and comfortable, then swapping over. In some ways on flights of a certain length, it could be argued that it's safer than the present arrangement where both pilots get the opportunity to get tired because most seats and flight decks are not the best places to recuperate in. The autopilot would probably have to be certified not to disconnect, so the remaining aviator could answer a call of nature without undue worry. There would likely be classes of airspace, datalink capabilities, medical and other requirements included in the rules - like a kind of EROPS+.

Second, only one pilot on board. Yes, there are lots of single-pilot commercial operations that go on around the world but most authorities limit them to relatively small aircraft. The accident statistics in that area are not encouraging, possibly partly to do with performance and certification rather than one pilot per se, but it would be a brave regulator who went first to up the limits.

I think there will inevitably be pilotless aircraft at some point in the future. I don't think we need to worry too much as by then anything that was previously done by a human will be much better performed by AI. We'll all be living in total hedonism, dead or stuck in some virtuality (or all three!)

29th May 2013, 10:27
The "automatics" did exactly what they were designed to do. The fault was in the (human) designer who assumed that human pilots would know what to do in an unusual situation.

29th May 2013, 13:02
Why not simply raise ticket prices? The tireless drive to the lowest common denominator never ends well, especially when lives hang in the balance. Not to worry though ... I'm sure the airline CEOs will -always- have a two man flight deck in their executive rides. :mad:

Heathrow Harry
29th May 2013, 15:24
"The tireless drive to the lowest common denominator never ends well,"

Welllll- over 50 years ticket prices have plummeted and safety has rocketed........

29th May 2013, 15:25
Yes an old story now, but coming to an (any) industry near you .... KOMATSU: Autonomous Haulage System&mdash;Komatsu's Pioneering Technology Deployed at Rio Tinto Mine in Australia (http://www.komatsu.com/ce/currenttopics/v09212/)

There are already remote UAV flight centres dotted around the world which are using now proven technologies to fly numerous military missions many thousands of miles away. So could it therefore be 'feasible' to some bean counters to ponder substituting the RH seat with something similar? Hell, you could even play CoD with them during the cruise .... :}

29th May 2013, 17:04
Ask the SLF, without fail the ones I have asked say "no way". Seriously though the biggest problem is how do you train a pilot.? Time on type and experience's passed on are the only practical way. I for one would not like to be controlled from a desk in Texas.

29th May 2013, 21:43
What is the motivation?
If it is safety then the focus should not be on removing the pilot, but on developing the technology alongside.
If the motivation is financial then I can think of a lot better people to remove from the system than the pilots.

29th May 2013, 22:11
So what happens in another 30/40 years when all the old grey beards have gone. Those that had previous life two pilot experience to pass on to the newbies. Where and from whom will these new age "single pilots" learn their trade .. I know in the sim or perhaps reading books ... maybe down at the retirement home talking to the old guys (assuming they are allowed/want to retire)

30th May 2013, 01:19
A single pilot functioning as a stand by controller waiting for the system to get out of its depth really makes no sense. When things turn sour, s/he'll be just as clueless as the machinery s/he is supposed to supplement.
AF 447 surely proved that beyond any doubt.
There are lots of smart people in the European aviation industry, including in the regulatory and research management. So I cannot believe that they would launch anything so obviously problematic. The simplest explanation is that the initiative has been mischaracterized/misunderstood. Can someone please help us understand what the real purpose is?

30th May 2013, 06:52
I believe some of the largest trains in the world are now completely driverless.

Fortescue railway - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortescue_railway)

Technology keeps advancing...

30th May 2013, 07:54
Not yet. Fortescue Railways uses drivers because it accesses other railways. Rio Tinto Zinc are currently trialling driverless freight trains.

30th May 2013, 08:15
I doubt the majority of the decline in accidents is down to the tech side, but rather crm/sop intro/decision making. When jets first hit the scene high sink rates at low level and rwy overruns featured in a lot in accidents until pilots were "educated" and sops introduced to deal with this. A large number of accidents are decision making gone wrong in compressed time frames.

cockney steve
30th May 2013, 09:52
The cost-saving ,per Sector, is not enough to afford to give the SLF a big-enough incentive to chance his arm (and life) going driverless or single-driver in an airliner.

Light aircraft, up to stuff like an Islander, are not viewed as "Proper" passenger-transport aircraft, and mentally they accept that there will be an increased risk, they can't wander around, there's no (or minimal) galley, hostie etc.

Same distinction , Coach V minibus, speaking of which, the London to Manchester coach carries a reserve driver and they swap places half-way on the journey.
back in the day, I'd regularly drive Essex-Man. 4 hours nonstop up Mon. down Fri.
Essex-Edinburgh or Glasgow was 8 hours, one stop for fuel and maybe a pee...if it was REALLY hot, I might treat myself to a cup of tea.

There's the difference between Public Transport and Private.

When they put rails up to F.L. and across the airways, descent and (dis)embarkation sidings, joe public might accept driverless airyplanes....but I can assure you, SLF won't jump in one in our lifetimes,And then, they would STILL want a driver to hold the "dead-man's handle"

maybe after driverless freighters have been the norm. for a generation?
Maritime transport would seem to be the obvious test-bed....only 2 dimensions and plenty of space, coupled with thinking-times of hours, rather than milliseconds.....WHAT? they aren't doing it yet? :}

30th May 2013, 10:41
Trains don't do emergency descents.

30th May 2013, 11:51
Trains don't do emergency descents.
And?? Already there are several types certificated to FL510 that have an "Emergency Descent Mode" of the AFCS triggered by the Cabin Alt warning.

30th May 2013, 13:41
Yes whatever, but trains don't do emergency descents, so I'm questioning where the logic of railway safety applies to aircraft.

30th May 2013, 14:07
Yep, single pilot, single hydraulic system, one genny, no alt brakes, one pack, one big engine, one bloke in ATC checking none of the warning lights have come on. Why have the expense of duplication when everything biological and mechanical is so reliable you can bet your life on it.

30th May 2013, 14:23
You need another Brain and Experience with you to pass ideas and strategies between the crew ,which requires a certain CRM to manage modern airliners.Therefore it is necessary to have at least 2 crew.Many times with Fog or Heavy Turbulence or Thunderstorm Activity,another set of views was very important to help the decision making.A long time ago the "Bomber" pilot Captain went to other pastures,and proper CRM exists today,so careful consideration of what is happening or could happen requires much more than a set of computers,that can only react to events not anticipate!The "What on earth is happening now"?scenario with multiple computers running the show,seems only too common amongst certain Aircraft Fleets,not naming a manufacture in Toulouse!!

Heathrow Harry
30th May 2013, 14:56
right now the number of System failures is probably slightly higher than the humanware failures but the problem is that systems are becoming more reliable whereas humans stay the same

Iron Duke
30th May 2013, 15:12
There is no question the technology exists for an A/C to fly from A to B on it's own .. UAV's etc. The difference is the "what if" scenario .. a machine alone is expendable, a human life is not.

Public transport A/C require (and have) a minimum of duplex redundancy, and this includes the pilots. This assumes that if 2 systems are fitted then one will fail without significant safety consideration albeit with probable commercial implication. It is also assumes that if only one system is fitted to an A/C that if it fails it has negligible safety implication.

Recent technological marvels have had well publicised failings, and yet were presented as operationally ready. In the end it is my belief that passengers will not get on an A/C that has only 1 pilot .. Automatic trains/ metros are irrelevant as any failure automatically brings them to a halt until technical assistance arrives .. this luxury is obviously not available to airliners, and therefore this is not a realistic comparison.

If all else fails a human pilot has an input of self preservation that computers do not ... for example if faced with visual pending doom the human pilot will take avoiding action regardless of what the "machines" are saying ... a computer will only obey what the sensors are telling it .. and it will fly into a mountain if instructed to.

30th May 2013, 15:30
The need for a second pilot in the flight deck cannot be simplistically measured only for the task of monitoring the PF. He is such a valuable asset when things get messy in the cockpit (and things do get messy sometimes), especially when flying to certain "less standardized" countries and decisions have to be taken at the end of a long-haul night and weather is minimal (as well as information) and flight controllers are unable to express themselves in fairly understandable English...South American destinations, as well as some parts of African, Far and Middle Eastern destinations, come to mind. Now, add to the equation a contingency fuel of only 3% (the minimum legal) and you'll get a pretty good picture of what comes next!
One can substitute a pilot by a set of computers, but in the end, computers are unable to gain experience, and especially are unable to improvise, in order to save your day.

30th May 2013, 16:44
the problem is that systems are becoming more reliable whereas humans stay the same

Humans stay the same, but there's no reason that the safety of flying operations can't be continually improved with better selection, training, medical screening and working practices.

30th May 2013, 22:50
no reason that the safety of flying operations can't be continually improved
with better selection, training

And there go the P2F schemes and schools that endorse and engage in them.

When was the last time a flying school told a would-be pilot with pockets bulging with money that they were not making sufficient progress, they were behind the eight ball and should consider an alternative career? That only happens in the military and the major airline sponsored cadet schemes.

Heathrow Harry
31st May 2013, 08:44
Blimey wrote:- "but there's no reason that the safety of flying operations can't be continually improved"

Indeed - and we have come some way BUT the records show that humans still make an awful lot of errors - maybe having two in the cockpit helps a bit but then there are the cases where they're chatting away, or get fixated on one issue or............

31st May 2013, 13:37
If the aim was to improve safety the humans would stay and the computers would continue developing around them. The humans bring an element of problem solving and understanding that computers don't and therefore would stay even if just to bring that element.
But the aim is not safety.

Mark in CA
31st May 2013, 13:48
Regardless of whether there is a pilot in the cockpit or not, there is another related issue that may be just as critical. The emergence of drones, both small and large, is giving the FAA headaches as it tries to figure out how to enable their operation without creating a danger to other aircraft.

Drones to enter public skies in 2015: Will it be safe? (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/drones-enter-public-skies-2015-safe-095826982.html)

31st May 2013, 18:03
You're not aware? Indeed. LionAir.

Irish Steve
31st May 2013, 19:38
What no one has thought to mention is that the present generations of hardware on aircraft are in a lot of cases 20 or 30 years out of date. For a long time, the manufacturers would not use a CPU chip more powerful than the 386, as that was the most recent chip that had been security certified for aviation use.

The technology has moved on massively since the 386, as has been demonstrated by producing hardware that was capable of guiding a radio controlled model across the Atlantic a while back, It was launched and flown to "cruise" height using normal Model control radio, then put into automatic, flew to Ireland, and then was landed by another operator on the ground.

The chips, and the size of the electronics are such that you could have 20 systems capable of performing that task in a box the size of the normal FMS on the aircraft.

The same restrictions of performance apply to many other computer systems used by the automation of the aircraft, so as a result, there are significant limits to what those systems can do in terms of analysis and response, not because the programmers can't improve the programs, but because the hardware is not fast enough or large enough capacity wise to handle all that could (and should) be programmed into the systems.

I've worked with computers for over 40 years, and also have a ME CPL/IR, and have worked on detailed and in depth research on ways to develop and improve the performance and capabilities of in flight systems for commercial aircraft, and I know that with the right funding, to make sure that the hardware has been properly quality assured, and with the right people working on the software side, the improvements that could be made to aircraft systems go a long way towards making the operation of even complex aircraft very much more straightforward than things are now.

The most damning phrase I have heard from pilots is "what's it doing now?" That phrase is a reflection of 2 issues, the lack of a good human interface between the computers and the crew, and the lack of in depth understanding by the crew of how the aircraft they are flying really operates, and how its systems interact.

A lot of the lack of crew knowledge comes down to the reluctance of bean counters to let them learn, because they can't see good reasons for having that level of knowledge in order to deal with 0.001% or less of incidents. That might be because the bean counters are never anywhere to be seen when an accident occurs, they are very good at distancing themselves from difficult situations.

Right now, I would not be happy with a single crew commercial aircraft, simply because the human interface with too many of the disparate systems is so poor, and tortuous, and things like ATC are still too much of a distraction from the fundamental task of aviating.

If the interface systems were improved, and the hardware performance increased appropriately, then I might be more inclined to consider single crewed commercial flights, I flew enough single crew IFR to know that it's not impossible, and also to know that the automation is not yet capable of providing adequate support to a single pilot to allow safe operation in all flight conditions. There were times when just flying the aircraft single crew was enough work load without having to deal with ATC that sort of spoke English with a heavy foreign accent, or ATIS that was computer generated but so bad quality that you have to listen to it several times to get the information needed, or instruments that have a poor interface so take significant time to set correctly, or the issues of trying to set the next comm frequency accurately in turbulence.

I could go on, but I think a lot of people will already have got the point I am trying to make.

If Boeing can produce drones that can be flown from 9000 miles away, in a military environment, it is not going to be long before that same technology can be enhanced to have the redundancy, safety and security needed to allow commercial operations It will probably be introduced into freight operations initially, for testing and proving the capabilities, but it will come for passenger ops, and nothing anyone says here or elsewhere is likely to change that.

I saw and worked with prototype systems that were capable of going way beyond the way that even current systems are working, and it was exciting to do it, and if I had the money, I'd still be doing it, and possibly testing some of those developments in light aircraft, just to prove that they can and do work.

Piloting has changed massively in the last 30 years, I've seen it happening, and it will change massively again over the next 20, of that there is no doubt.

Ideally, the good pilots that are involved now would be closely involved in making sure that the next generation of avionics and systems are a significant improvement over what has been done so far, as too much of the present systems have been designed by non pilots, with pilots then expected to change how they work to suit the systems. That's not good, the automation has to complement the pilot, not oppose the pilot.

When that happens, then everyone will be happy.

31st May 2013, 20:32
Amuses me that there is talk here about increased automation and the concept of only one pilot,yet we can't seem to devise a cast iron system which will ensure that an a/c does not depart with the engine cowls unlatched.

31st May 2013, 21:10
Regarding passenger perception of automated flying, if the choice was a flight costing $250 vs one for $200 without a pilot, you'll find the majority will choose the one costing $200 (you'll probably find surveys that would sway most people with $5 difference). The majority masses do not care about the types of aircraft they fly, the boarding process, the crew competency, they just care about the price showing on their computer screen at the time of booking.

Once you have swayed the public with driverless cars I don't think the public will have any issue with 'driverless' aircraft...

31st May 2013, 22:10
But you must have a pilot, otherwise there's no one to blame for not spotting the open latches on the walk round.

1st Jun 2013, 06:39
The B-2 is quite automated, and flies with a crew of 2. Missions can go as long as 39 hours (limited by engine oil consumption). In low-stress parts of the flight, the PNF will lie on a mat on the floor and nap. Perhaps that scenario would be fine for long-distance air carrier ops, but I can't see single-pilot for these types of flights. Even if the pilot could nap while the autopilot flies, if an emergency arises, the pilot will not be immediately alert. I would surely think it would take one longer to assess and analyze the problem if just jolted awake, versus paying attention all along.

The idea of a ground-based pilot flying (as some military aircraft are now operated) still requires a pilot, getting paid. If the idea was to save labor costs, I don't see the point.

I would not be a passenger on a pilotless aircraft. George might do a superb job flying 99% of the time, but computers do not have the flexibility of the human brain. I can't imagine a computer having the same ability to react to an emergency that a human can. A great example: the Airbus that landed in the Hudson River. With a dual flameout, what would the computer do? Lower the nose and maintain airspeed, of course. Then what? If no runway is within glide-range, can it be smart enough to choose the river, rather than the densely-populated city? Those lives were spared because of an experienced crew that could think flexibly, not constrained to 2 or 3 choices of the computer programmer. (I understood that the crew would have run the engines to max power to save the flight, but the computer prevented that. "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.")

When the inevitable crash comes, with no pilot to blame, who becomes the brunt of the lawsuit? The technicians who allowed something to fail? The manufacturer of a flawed computer? The programmer of that computer? Surely the dead or injured SLF's families won't be saying "well, they did get their ticket for a good discount because pilots weren't having to be paid, so it would be unfair for us to sue".

Heathrow Harry
1st Jun 2013, 08:30
another great example - Lion Air crashing in Bali with two awake pilots in the loop

there are as many cases of pilots being the problem as there are the kit being the problem

ATC Watcher
1st Jun 2013, 09:48
rotorfan : excellent remarks. but what is currently done in the military ( e.g UAVs) cannot be duplicated, and by far, for passenger transport .

Heathrow Harry : Bali : good example among many .
but to automate approaches you need some ground infrastructure . in Bali on that runway there is no ILS, so what do we do to go there in a more automated way ?
landing systems equivalent to CAT3B at the end of every runway at every airport ?
What will be the cost of that ? I think in countries like Indonesia with over 200 airports , it is definitively cheaper to leave 2 guys up front ,( especially if the second one is paying to be there:rolleyes: )

1st Jun 2013, 09:55
OK ... so now were safer with no pilots. Has someone got data on the times when pilots did "save the day" or "get it right"...."no".... thought so.... :rolleyes:

(but probably about every other flight that leaves the ground)

Heathrow Harry
1st Jun 2013, 15:16
or get it wrong and its never reported.........

right now the balance is in favour of 2 pilots but, just because we don't like the idea that we can be replaced by machines, is no reason to say it won't happen

1st Jun 2013, 20:33
When it goes wrong, its usually reported by CNN "raw footage" of a smoking hole. That's about all that's needed.... isn't it..! ... :ok:

1st Jun 2013, 23:45
but it will come for passenger ops, and nothing anyone says here or elsewhere is likely to change that.

Good post Irish Steve, you may well be right, one day, but before that day all security issues have to be resolved with no prospect of a well armed and trained suicidal team of zealots taking over a ground control station or simply setting up a powerful jamming station that can issue rogue commands or, more simply, no commands. Either of these scenarios would be able to cause carnage of biblical proportions so I think the technology may be available at least a century before the security issue is resolved.

2nd Jun 2013, 01:29
All of the above makes interesting reading.
Events like Bali(lion air), and AF 447, make a strong argument for UAV's, because in both cases the crew WERE the problem. AF447 would have recovered from a deep high altitude stall if the crew had of just let go of the controls! And the Bali splash down was just unforgivable.
The root cause IMHO goes much deeper than poorly trained crew. Airline management, bean counters are saving a fortune on training, P2F, actually makes money, but produces an inferior product. Basic high altitude hand flying skills have deteriorated over the years because the automatics do such a superb job. If anyone on the flight deck of AF 447 had of recognised a deep stall........ Well the result would have been completely different.
The regular 6 monthly sim sessions concentrate on V1 cuts, OEI approaches and and go arounds. Basic flying skills are slowly being eroded by the advent of better and better automatics.
The argument against UAV's is made perfectly by the glide approach in the Hudson River. That needed a competent pilot hand flying and capably assisted by a competent First Officer. Sully did a good job, but no better that the vast majority of competent crew would have been able to do. Sullenberger, or anyone of the vast majority of his co-hort would have performed very simarlarly, ie without a human pilot that aircraft and it's complement would have been doomed.

Have you noticed that most aircraft prangs are not related to system failures, that is to say the defect by itself was not solely responsible for the disaster, it required the crew to really stuff things up. The solution to this is simply better trained crew. Some significant time actually hand flying the aircraft in all configurations, and much more emphasis on CRM. When an F/O says "go around" the captain better bloody well go around. Air India Express apparently went for two years without any documented CRM training, and then lost an aircraft to very very poor CRM. Who would have guessed. Garuda lost a 737 at Jogjakarta, under almost identical circumstances, poor CRM.

If we as a pilot body keep repeating this sort of accident we only strengthen the argument for pilotless RPT.

2nd Jun 2013, 01:39
How will ATC work? Will the instructions come from them in the form of a data package that uploads to the FMS via satellite uplink? If that is the case will the FMS pick up ATC errors like pilots do day in day out? ( just as ATC pick up pilot errors). I find that hard to imagine, ie when ATC issue an instruction to aircraft A instead of aircraft B it is usually picked up by the pilot and they say something like " confirm left heading 030 for Delta 116?" how will the FMS deal with that? Will it just accept the instruction?

2nd Jun 2013, 01:43
Further to my last post, the point I think I was making is that we won't have removed the human element from the system, it will still be there , just on the ground. Those humans will make mistakes as humans do and computers will do what they've always done and stick to the rule of " garbage in- garbage out" .

Heathrow Harry
2nd Jun 2013, 08:15
TBH I'd far rather they spent the time and money coming up with a foolproof way of telling us exactly what the ACTUAL weight of the aircraft was before take-off

2nd Jun 2013, 08:50
I'd far rather they gave us one rostered day every second month to sit in the classroom and go over all the changes to airways/ SOP's/ ATC /approach requirements/ RNP- AR/ EFB procedures/ Engineering requirements etc etc.

go around flaps15
2nd Jun 2013, 09:32
I flew into Marrakech about 5 weeks ago. ATC down there is the poorest I have witnessed by a country mile. As we descended through Fl150 I could see those great big Atlas mountains to the south and all around them heading our way were some of the biggest thunderstorms I have seen in my career, the weather radar was lit up like a Christmas tree.

Needless to say a lot of weather avoidance enroute to Agadir and once again ATC was virtually non existent( no radar in Marrakech).

The workload was high. Very high. The workload management was good. End result: Perfectly safe landing in Agadir.

The thought of me sitting there in a 65 tonne Jet with 200 souls on board doing all this on my own on a regular basis, quite frankly makes my blood run cold.

There's a reason single pilot airliners with hundreds of people on board don't exist.

When will they realise.:ugh:

2nd Jun 2013, 11:12
But you must have a pilot, otherwise there's no one to blame for not spotting
the open latches on the walk round.

Actually, you must have a "good" pilot to spot the unlocked engine cowls and not one who's just taking a quick stroll around the outside to "show-off" his gold bars! Bring back the FE... the A319 "incident" would never have happened!

2nd Jun 2013, 11:16
go around flaps15,
Hear, hear!
Regrettably, few, other than professional pilots, understand how workload can build up, and sometimes rapidly.

3rd Jun 2013, 08:51
Full automation will work perfectly...................

We'll just have to wait a few years while they work out the weather control, eliminate any failures on aircraft, and anything else that can affect a flight.

Of course it will help to if the fully automated autonomous systems can programme themselves.

Otherwise we are still back to the system only being able to respond in the way a human has programmed it to, if that human omits one set of circumstances, the system won't respond in the way intended.

No computer can yet come near the human brain, and even allowing for the ever accelerating advances, it won't happen for many years.

The experiments with "pilotless" aircraft at the moment are not really very advanced, they will work when conditions are within the parameters of the programme.

3rd Jun 2013, 10:42
If they would just take that remotely-piloted aircraft and fly one leg from Dubai to Delhi, and make it on a day with some thunderstorms, we'd quit having this stupid conversation.

It'd take two or three operators on the ground just to decipher the radios.

And has anyone thought about the task of getting approval from every country involved for this system????

Locked door
3rd Jun 2013, 14:50
New underpants for these pilots.

Note the phrase "out of control drone" in the article.

Terrifying video captures moment German drone missed Afghan plane carrying 100 passengers by just two metre | Mail Online (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2335122/Terrifying-video-captures-moment-German-drone-missed-Afghan-plane-carrying-100-passengers-just-metre.html)