"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' ."
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?
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.