Airbus Says Single Pilot Flight Crews Are The Long Term Future

Despite last week’s Airbus Summit in Toulouse primarily covering sustainability goals, the aviation powerhouse also touched on other significant potential changes to its industry. Airbus has high hopes for single-pilot cockpits on long-haul routes.

Cathay Pacific A350
Airbus is already working with airlines on reducing crew members. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Plans in the works

This summer, it was revealed that Airbus has been collaborating with Cathay Pacific to bring smaller crews on long-haul flights. This move would place only one pilot in the cockpit for most of the time.

Altogether, rather than having the capacity for three to four pilots on long distances, Project Connect would leave two pilots on board and have them rotate the flight deck so that each one can get some rest.

Lufthansa, Airbus A340, Return
Even Lufthansa shared that it was mulling over a similar project, further giving hints of the direction that long-haul is going in. Photo: Getty Images

Savings to be had

Overall, the benefits of a reduced crew revolve around costs. Around 25% of aircraft expenses are related to the cost of personnel, with crew accounting for around 13%. Therefore, airlines are keen to utilize technology to help smaller-sized crews handle long trips. Every penny counts when it comes to flight operations, so any sort of saving could go a long way.

“We need to mature technology to enable any further cockpit member reduction in crews. So, we have a set of technology readiness level reviews, which at some point in time, can restart. It has an economic impact. Then from the technology standpoint, we could automate a little bit of it for a cockpit that will be more modern. So, this is in the technology space,” Airbus’ leadership shared in Toulouse last week.

“At some point in time, whenever we are ready for sure, this is the kind of discussion that would require some wider discussion with the airlines, with the unions, and with the public.”

A350 cockpit
There would be cockpit upgrades with the move. Photo: Airbus

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Safety measures

Airbus highlights that safety is the priority of its operations, and it won’t compromise this with the program. For this reason, the company will take its time with the project to make sure that the technology continues to mature and that the firm can continue to do reviews so that services can transform safely and effectively.

The manufacturer states that automation is an incredible way to maintain safe operations. It has mulled over several details, and it is seeing notable results on the improvement of safety with automation. Therefore, Airbus wants to continue down this path as it sees opportunities to reduce human intervention on board.

Airbus concludes that “the long term aspiration of a single pilot operation is a good one.” It feels that automation is attractive and that while the industry may be a while from this shift, the momentum will continue to bring the right dynamics in the market.

What are your thoughts about the prospects of single-pilot flight crews? What do you make of these proposals? Let us know what you think of the potential in this field in the comment section.