Doug Toppin's Blog

My thoughts on technology and other stuff

Single Pilot Commercial Cockpit?

This is an interesting story on if commercial airliners can be safely flown by one pilot rather than two in the cockpit (or even if this is a good idea or not). Automation certainly makes this possible and I remember the complaints by the airline pilots and their union way back when they first started discussing reducing the crew from three (two pilots and a flight engineer) to the pilots only. Their concerns at that time included safety and likely job losses. There was a significant labor, cockpit hardware and weight cost reductions in going from three to two enabled by automation. At one time I thought that going from two to one was another savings but there is definitely an increased risk in that with two pilots one can monitor the other. There have been a few stories in the last few years of an incapacitated or even malicious pilot. A single pilot cockpit is an interesting discussion to have. I would expect increased boredom to become an even bigger issue than it is now. Imagine sitting by yourself in the front office for long hours doing nothing other than monitoring the systems (with no one to talk to other than yourself). Could you effectively pay attention, notice and respond to any issues quickly enough? As a passenger, would you feel safe if there were only one pilot that was responsible for the aircraft?

I can easily imagine a similar situation to that portrayed in “2001, A Space Odyssey” where David Bowman says to HAL “You’re working up your crew psychology report”. The aircraft would need to talk to the pilot every now and then to both keep them company as well as evaluate their mental state.

All in all an interesting discussion. Note that in any business enterprise, cost and profit margin drives everything in the end.

The story can be found at