Removing pilots from the cockpit has been a strategy used in the past to help save on labor costs, as aircraft that require fewer pilots decrease the cost associated with flying the aircraft.. Originally, a cockpit contained five pilots, each filling a distinct role. Over time, the roles of navigators, flight engineers, and radio operators have been eliminated due to technological innovations in their respective functional areas . With the current need for increased financial stability and a solution for the looming pilot shortage, moving from the current two-pilot paradigm to a single pilot cockpit may be the next logical step.
In most major aircrafts there are two pilot roles filled by the captain and co-pilot: they are the pilot flying (PF) and the pilot not flying (PNF). Both the captain and co-pilot can fill either role as needed and often switch to fulfill training/certification requirements. The major responsibilities of the PF include flying the aircraft, confirming callouts and inspecting instruments. The PNF handles of interactions with ATC, performs cockpit callouts, inspects and manipulates instruments and, if needed, takes over the responsibility of flying the aircraft. All of their responsibilities are described within an official FAA approved document called the Flight Crew Operating Manual (FCOM). An FCOM details flight procedures for all potential situations that a plane may be in for both on the ground and in the air operations. For the purposes of this project the team has analyzed the procedures described within the FCOM for a Swiss Airlines owned and operated RJ100 aircraft.
Flight procedures detail the established processes followed to operate an aircraft and the responsible pilot. A procedure is decomposed into a series of tasks within the FCOM. An example procedure is illustrated in the sequence diagram below Figure . The procedure shown is one that is completed when a wind shear has been detected. The four standard actors within this procedure and a majority of others are the PF, PNF, Aircraft and ATC. Each message represents a task, in this case the PF completes a series of physical tasks before performing a cockpit callout at which point the PNF takes over several physical and cognitive tasks before interacting with the ATC.
Figure : Sequence diagram for a "Windshear Detection Procedure" out of the RJ100 FCOM
Commercial aviation is a major provider of transportation services. Since aviation is a large part of the US economy, major advancements in the forms of new systems have a large impact for all persons regardless of personal air transportation utilization. The commercial aviation industry has a diverse range of stakeholders involved in its continued operation, each with its own motives, resources, and functions. The various involved parties and the relationships that they have with one another are detailed in Figure 8 and Table below. The involved entities can be divided into four main categories: regulatory agencies (FAA, DoT), aviation workforce (pilots, air traffic controllers, and the unions representing them), aviation infrastructure (airports, aircraft manufacturers, and insurance agencies), and the customer base. While airline companies have a vested interest in increasing their profitability by implementing a single pilot cockpit solution, many of the other agencies in the industry may have serious reservations about moving away from the existing two-pilot system, especially regulatory agencies.
Figure : Stakeholder interaction chart.
Commercial air carriers are primarily driven by their business objectives. Airline managers are entrusted to operate and monitor the business in accordance with their predefined business objectives. Just like any other business, air carriers must make decisions around how profitability and costs are affected.
Implementing a single pilot cockpit to reduce the need for pilot labor will be a favorable option for commercial air carriers due to the potential cost savings. However, they would run into serious conflicts with many of the aviation industry’s stakeholders, presenting a series of potential challenges in moving forward with implementation. In any market, ignoring the needs of consumers is bad for profitability. Commercial aviation would not survive if it ignored customers, employees, or regulators.
As a regulatory body, the FAA’s primary objective is to create and enact policy with the express purpose of maintaining or improving aviation safety. The agency is granted the power to regulate aviation and create policy in line with its mission to create a safe and efficient airspace . As such, the FAA holds the reins on whether or not a single pilot cockpit system would be approved and allowed to operate. The agency would be very skeptical of a single pilot cockpit because it represents such a significant departure from current aviation systems. A single pilot cockpit is inherently counter to the FAA’s objectives because it lowers aircraft reliability by reducing a human pilot by a machine.
Action to resolve conflicts between air carriers and the FAA would be very laborious and time consuming. Rigorous testing and analysis would have to be completed to demonstrate to the FAA that the single pilot cockpit is feasible from a safety and reliability standpoint, as well as prove that the established minimum reliability standards will be met. System design alternatives will have to meet regulatory standards and include long term impact to pilot certification, air traffic control, aircraft certification, and airports. The FAA would be the authority on any impact to the National Airspace System (NAS) in addition to its regulatory role. Objectives may greatly vary from each segment of the NAS. Even if all other stakeholders are brought into agreement on a particular single pilot system, the FAA will be the ultimate hurdle for aviation companies to overcome, as they are required to give the legal authorization to operate such a system.