Could The Boeing 797 Operate With Just One Pilot?

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Boeing is known for pushing the limit, but this time they might be going a little too far. The new 797 has reportedly been designed to be able to fly with just one pilot, making the role of the first officer obsolete.

British Airways Suspends Pilots
The future might be single pilot cockpits. Photo:Pixabay

What are the details?

According to industry rumors, Boeing is planning on announcing their new 797 aircraft at the 2019 Paris Air Show. This plane will be a totally new design, with new features never seen before on an aircraft.

But one of these features, as uncovered by CNBC, has some industry commentators concerned that it is a technology push too far. The new Boeing 797 is rumored to be flyable with only one pilot onboard, instead of the normal two that is generally a given standard.

This is not a completely crazy notion, as aircraft once flew with three cockpit crew (a captain, a first office and an engineer), but now fly with only two.

Boeing 767
The Boeing 797 will be about the same size as the Boeing 767 but will have a shorter range. Image: Boeing.

How would one pilot work?

Airline analysts at Airway1.com have surmised that one pilot would be physically on the plane and act as a captain, with another on the ground in the first officer role, managing several flights at once.

To help facilitate the rollout, Boeing Research and Technology Vice-President Charles Toups said to CNBC, back in February, that Boeing would provide the service first to cargo carriers like DHL and FedEx, before releasing it to public aviation some time later.

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This plan makes sense, as the rest of the world moves towards automation with automatic driverless cars (Tesla) and driverless trucks (US Post Service); why not spread this technology to aircraft as well?

Airlines would benefit from the greatly reduced pilot costs (some of which are paid $700,000 USD a year) and would be able to rapidly scale up their workforce where needed by using remote pilots.

Should it be done?

Boeing is already in hot water from incorporating too much technology into their aircraft. Recently, a computer glitch caused two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to override the pilots and fly the aircraft into the ground, killing over 300 passengers.

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Boeing 737 MAX beside The Boeing 797. Photo: Simple Flying.

Plus, let’s not imagine a scenario in which the pilot on the ground in the control center becomes compromised and decides to treat the aircraft like a cheap drone.

Since the news broke about this single pilot feature, Boeing has been quick to quash the rumors and reassure the public.

“We remain focused on executing on our commitments, including evaluating the business case for the NMA. With that said, should we launch, the NMA flight deck is being designed for two pilots and we’ve been consistent that we don’t see NMA as a technology push airplane,” Boeing statement to CNBC.

Ultimately, it is very likely that this is the direction of the industry. But airlines will have to move very slowly to incorporate this change. Whilst it saves them plenty of cash, it comes at a cost of making passengers nervous about safety.

What do you think? Would you fly on an aircraft with only one pilot? Let us know in the comments. 

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