Single Pilot: An Imminent Change Waiting To Happen?

To cut costs, airlines are pushing for single-pilot operations despite safety fears. As you already know, the aviation industry’s safety rules ensure that two pilots are onboard an aircraft before takeoff. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines have been dealing with losses and a shortage of pilots. As a result of the preceding, airlines are now pushing for a single-pilot system to ensure that only one pilot is onboard.

Airlines and regulators are pushing to have one pilot in the cockpit of commercial aircraft instead of the usual two. It will, without an iota of doubt, lower costs and ease pressure from the lingering crew shortage in the aviation industry. However, that is a tall ask, and placing the responsibility of flying an airplane with a lone pilot is unsettling for many pilots.

To push through the agenda, over 40 countries, including the UK and Germany, have asked the United Nations body that sets aviation regulations and standards to help make single-pilot flights a reality.

The plan does not sit well with pilots who are already used to having two on a plane, and it is also hard to sell to passengers. However, despite the opinion of pilots who don’t see the change as necessary and the possible backlash from passengers, the European Union Aviation Agency (EASA) has continued to work with plane makers to determine how single-pilot flights will operate. EASA said such services could start as early as 2027 and are already preparing rules to usher in the change.

Reaction from pilots

pilots flying a small plane

As mentioned earlier, the plan doesn’t sit well with pilots. Tony Lucas, an Airbus SE A330 captain for Qantas Airways Ltd and president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, has aired his view on the development. According to Lucas;

“The people going down this route aren’t the people who fly jets daily; when things go awry, they go awry fairly quickly.”

Lucas worries that the single pilot may be overwhelmed by an emergency without anyone noticing or even having time to reach the cockpit to help. He is also concerned with the lost opportunities to mentor junior pilots that could ravage the industry if flight crews work alone.

Single-pilot; the change could happen soon

Single-pilot flights is a change waiting to happen

The planned change will usher in a new normal. Although it has yet to be made clear what will happen when the pilot has an emergency, collapses, or starts flying erratically. However, we have had incidents of passengers having to fly a plane due to an emergency. That has happened with two-seater planes; however, there is no record to prove that a talk-down landing was ever required for a commercial aircraft. 

If the push goes through, what beckons on the horizon is that automation, technology, and remote assistance from the ground will replace the expertise, instantaneous, and safety assurance of having a second pilot in the cockpit.

What does history say?

What does history say?

The aviation industry is fast-paced, and there is no static moment in the industry. In the early 1950s, the cockpit of commercial flights was more crowded than today; the cockpit used to seat two pilots, a flight engineer, a radio operator, and a navigator. Interestingly, the three later positions became redundant due to technological advancement. Hence, history suggests that another change is imminent and could happen sooner than first thought.

According to Janet Northcote, EASA head of communication, in an email;

“We are potentially removing the last piece of human redundancy from the flight deck.”

I doubt the pilots will agree with her position; however, one condition that must be met before the two pilots’ system is out phased is that the single-pilot system must be as safe as with two pilots. This is the position of the EU in its request to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN aviation standard body.

Boeing Co. Southeast Asia President Alexander Feldman was quoted at the Bloomberg business summit in Bangkok to have said;

“The psychological barriers are probably harder than the technological barrier.”

He further stated that;

“The technology is there for single pilots; it’s really about where the regulators and the general public feel comfortable.”


Due to its immense benefit, the value of having two pilots in the cockpit can not be overemphasized. However, the fallout of COVID-19 has impacted the aviation industry significantly. Hence, some changes will have to come to steady the industry. Again, given that airlines have been grappling with the shortage of flight crew, it is believed that a single-pilot system will ease the pressure. However, whether the pilots and the passengers agree is left to be seen.

Transitioning to a single-pilot model for a flight will have a ripple effect on the aviation industry. It will undoubtedly impact safety rules, crew training, mental health, and medical requirements. According to Joe Leader, CEO of a New York-based aviation association that focuses on passengers’ experiences;

“Commercial airline passengers absolutely expect and deserve two pilots in the cockpit.”


What do you think of single-pilot operations? Please leave a comment below. 


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Victor Utomi
Victor Utomi
Victor is an aviation reporter with a passion for all things related to flight and aerospace. In addition to the coverage of the latest industry news and developments, Victor is also a crypto enthusiast, keeping a close eye on the latest trends and developments in the digital currency world. When he is not reporting on the aviation industry or following the crypto market, he can be found exploring the great outdoors. As a nature lover, he spends his free time camping, visiting zoos and nature parks, and taking in the beauty of the natural world. In addition to his love of nature, Victor is also an advocate for clean energy. He believes in the importance of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and finding sustainable energy sources to power our future. Overall, Victor brings a unique and well-rounded perspective to his reporting, combining his interests in aviation, crypto, nature, and clean energy to provide insightful and informative coverage on a variety of topics.



  1. We read in the news from time to time that a flight is diverted due to a pilot becoming incapacitated or dying. With single pilot operation how does the airlines plan to handle the situation?

  2. As much as I hate to fathom the thought, I believe single pilot flights are imminent, it’s not a question of if, but when. Autonomous flying airplanes, like cars, are here, so a single pilot may be feasible, time will tell if & when commercial airlines go solo pilot.

  3. I think, as explained above, that there is a huge gap between a crew of 3 to a crew of 2 and a crew of 2 to a crew of 1. It is said that a good CRM in a crew of 2 “creates” a third entity (1+1=3) that makes all the difference when things go awry. This can’t happen with a single crew that quickly can become “less than 1″ when task overloaded by a cascade of negative events. We also know by experience that assistance from remote systems on ground can be impaired by a wide variety of occurences, and even for a short period of time, this may have disastrous consequences.
    I am convinced that when this single crew rule will be implemented, then, we sooner or later will experience this pilot saying: ” we know how many accidents have been caused by pilot error, but we don’t know how many have been avoided by pilot’s skill”


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