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Single pilot flights: can plane manufacturers convince passengers?*

“How will the travelling public feel about going into a one-pilot aeroplane? Is that something that the population would accept?” Christian Scherer, the new chief executive commercial aircraft at Airbus, wastes no time. Just a month into his role, he already jumps in defence of single pilot flights, showing more concern for public opinion than the safety concerns of the global pilot community. 

For aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and Dassault, and airlines, one major challenge lies in convincing passengers that single-pilot flights offer them benefits. Current polls suggest that passengers are not thrilled by the idea to fly with just one pilot. In the upcoming months and years, we expect to hear various dubious claims: that single pilot flights enhance safety (an untruth), improve pilot rest (also untrue), and represent a technological leap (dubious). However, Airbus understands that passenger acceptance and support are as crucial as regulatory approval. The concerted effort to convince passengers that one pilot is enough has officially begun.

Coming to the aid of manufacturers is EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, tasked with independently and critically assessing whether reducing the number of pilots would impact safety. On paper, the Agency is fulfilling this role. In a recent statement to eurActiv, EASA states that manufacturers “will need to demonstrate that safety levels are at least as high as in current two-pilot operations to obtain certification” and that “safety must not be compromised.” On the surface, it all sounds promising.

However, while EASA maintains a critical regulatory stance publicly, behind the scenes, it aligns closely with manufacturers. The Agency sometimes appears to act as an advocacy arm of Airbus rather than an independent safety watchdog. Evidence of this alignment is seen in the agency’s efforts to lobby ICAO in support of single pilot flights (see this presentation). Another clear example is the EASA Best Intervention Strategy – a standard EASA procedure guiding rulemaking priorities – where the agency seems to run a reasoning of how to implement eMCO, establishing a sort of fait accompli, without reflecting on whether it is really needed from a safety point of view.

Pilots and their associations have an important role to play in this. Several associations have launched awareness initiatives, aimed at passengers and decision-makers. ECA, ALPA & IFALPA are coordinating a global campaign: These initiatives will be crucial to counterbalance the wealthy lobby of manufacturers and airlines, question their false narrative and keep asking EASA the tough questions. After all, someone needs to come in defence of aviation safety. 







* This article first appeared in our LinkedIn Newsletter on Reduced Crew Operations

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