Who is flying the plane!

Who is flying the plane!

 

It's no secret, the entire airline industry is struggling to hire and retain pilots. It’s being experienced globally!

Competition is fierce in who can attract and train new pilots. Six figure signing bonuses are becoming the norm south of the border and personally speaking, getting out of order.

The industry is predicting that the world will require an additional 30k pilots in the next few years. One just has to look at the aircraft orders around the world. Emirates Airline and FlyDubai just placed a combined order of over 100 airplanes. Factor in 15 crew per airplane, and just that, will require them to recruit an additional 1500 new hires.

In Canada, between major airlines, Air Canada, WestJet and Porter, a battle is emerging to see who can poach/attract each other’s pilots to meet their new cockpit demand.

One of the solutions becoming a norm, is to establish a cadet program where new pilots are trained and offered employment once they graduate.

The airplane manufacturers are also discussing options of a one pilot cockpit instead of two. Another option is to eliminate all humans from the cockpit and replace them with Artificial Intelligence (AI). A pure automated cockpit being controlled from the ground. Military around the world are already flying UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) in different configurations and roles. These drones are controlled by humans on the ground and could be thousands of miles away from where the UAV is flying. 

                                         

 

Obviously, with this in mind, you can see how aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus are looking to reduce human input in the aircraft. Large commercial aircraft are already fully automated and are capable of landing automatically if the weather restricts the pilot from seeing the runaway. 

The question becomes, what happens to a two-man crew if one of them becomes incapacitated? No worries, all pilots are trained to fly the aircraft in case of an emergency incapacitation. Not a big deal.

What if we replace one pilot with a computer? What happens if the only human pilot has a heart attack or any other illness that prevents him from doing his duties?

 

                               

 

More importantly, flying public perception and acceptance in having only one pilot up front.

I am confident the aircraft manufacturers have thought this through. The aircraft is still flying safely but the human portion of the cockpit is not responding. The most probable scenario would be a safety system which would be available in such cases. The ground controller would be able to activate an emergency return to the nearest suitable airport command, or even the cabin manager if they discover that the pilot is not responding.

Currently, there are recreational aircraft with a built-in Emergency Land button. These have already been proven as a safe and effective way to get the aircraft on the ground in case the pilot is incapacitated. The system is called “Safe Return Emergency Autoland System” built by Garmin.

 

                                           

This system could be adapted to commercial aviation, however; the question remains, is the flying public ready for this kind of emergency system with only one pilot in the cockpit? If accepted, we might as well do away with all pilots in the cockpit and only have Artificial Intelligence, that in the event of a critical emergency, activates the system.

Personally, I would feel extremely uncomfortable if I had to be a passenger on a fully automated aircraft yet alone with only one crew member. I don’t think we are there yet; however, it's on the drawing board and coming! How would you feel knowing that there are no humans at the controls? Scary thoughts!

Season Greetings and Happy Landing’s everyone. Safe travels.

Captain MT

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