Ryanair Boss: I Want Only One Pilot in the Cockpit

The CEO of Ryanair, the Irish discount airline, Michael O’Leary said in an interview with the Financial Times of London this week that:

 "he is writing to aviation authorities for permission to use only one pilot per flight because he says co-pilots are unnecessary in modern jets where "the computer does most of the flying now' ."

CEO O'Leary, who likes to generate controversy (see here and here) to garner publicity, said that such a move would save the airline industry "a fortune."

Mr. O'Leary argues that a co-pilot is not necessary on short haul flights, since:

 "flight attendants could do the job of a co-pilot, who was only there to "make sure the first fella doesn't fall asleep and knock over one of the computer controls'."

Naturally, Mr. O'Leary's comments have caused a bit of an uproar. However, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer in June basically suggested the same thing, although beginning in the years 2020 - 2025.

According to this story at Flightglobal in June, Embraer is serious looking into developing single-pilot airliners as the next generation air traffic control systems come into operation in the US and Europe.

Embraer also admitted that it may take some effort to convince regulators, the flying public and airline unions that this is acceptable.

In July, Thales Aerospace said in another Flightglobal article that its Cockpit 3.0, which Flightglobal describes as being "aimed at reducing crew workload, complexity and scope for human error, as well as the physical size of the cockpit to maximise payload volume" would be investigating the introduction of single-pilot airliners in the 2030 timeframe.

Some have hypothesized that single-pilot airliners may be feasible sooner rather than later because of the advances being made in remotely piloted vehicles; others ask why have a pilot at all?

This article in Salon yesterday by airline pilot Patrick Smith vigorous argues why Mr. O'Leary's vision is preposterous, and this previously linked-to article talks about some of the practical issues involved in accomplishing a single-pilot cockpit.

In the midst of this debate that Mr. O'Leary sparked this week, the BBC reported yesterday that a Russian Tupolev-154, flying from Polyarny in Siberia to Moscow, apparently lost all electrical power at an altitude of 10,000 meters. The pilots successfully glided the aircraft carrying 81 passengers and crew to a landing at a disused military airfield, about 1,500 kilometers from Moscow. No one was hurt, even though the aircraft overran the runway by some 600 feet.

No explanation as to why the aircraft's power went out has been provided as of yet.

I guess according to Mr. O'Leary's theory, that feat was really no big deal. Any pilot and trained flight attendant - perhaps like the that ex-Jet Blue flight attendant who caused a ruckus a few weeks back - could have done the same.

Anyway, thoughts on the feasibility - technical, social and political - of single cockpit airliners? Is 2020 or 2030 a feasible timeline for its introduction from any of these three perspectives?

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