Airplane Manufacturers Look to Reduce Number of Pilots to One!
Manufacturers are pushing ahead with projects like embedding artificial intelligence into cockpits
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July 23, 2018 - JAMIE FREED FARNBOROUGH, ENGLAND/SINGAPORE REUTERS - The Global and Mail
- Airlines globally could save about US$15-billion a year by going down to a single pilot
Airplane manufacturers are working to adapt jets to reduce the number of pilots needed for long-haul flights and to build new cockpits designed for a single aviator in order to ease a global pilot shortage and cut airline costs.
Airbus SE and Thales SA expect the number of cockpit crew on long-haul flights, typically three or four, could be reduced to two from 2023 thanks to new technology to reduce pilot workload.
"That's not an absurd date. Reducing crew on long-range looks to be the most accessible step because there is another pilot on board," Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus head of engineering, said at the Farnborough Airshow.
Boeing Co. is examining the possibility of having reduced manning in the cockpit of a proposed mid-sized jet that it aims to have in service by 2025 if it proceeds with a launch decision next year, according to UBS analysts. Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"You can see the drivers from both angles," said Graham Braithwaite, Director of Transport Systems at Britain's Cranfield University. "The technology to fly an aircraft on automatic is brilliant. The other driver in all this is that we're really short of pilots. They're a very expensive resource."
The proponents of reduced numbers in the cockpit say the move, which could begin with cargo flights, is inevitable, just as pilot numbers were cut from three to two in the 1980s when the flight engineer position was axed due to improved design on new jets like the Boeing 757.
Airlines globally could save about US$15-billion a year by going down to a single pilot, UBS said, and at a time of a pilot shortage, this would help ensure there are enough aviators to serve a fast-growing industry.
Replacing the vast array of knobs and switches with more digital interfaces familiar to today's teenagers could also help to shorten the amount of time it takes to train pilots, thus easing the shortage.
Ultimately, the goal would be for a fully autonomous commercial jet along the lines of a driverless car, although that technology, which requires clean-sheet jet designs from the major manufacturers, could take until 2040, according to an estimate from Thales.
"I would compare autonomy to an open-heart surgery of our systems. All of our systems are specified to have permanently two persons in the cockpit," Mr. Dumont said.