Navigation history. One pilot in the cockpit. 2014.

Kraków 2014-11-19

No commercial plane needs to take off, but when it takes off it must land.

Subjective article.

Is it possible for a commercial plane to be operated by one pilot?

Airbus A.380. 2014 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman
Airbus A.380. 2014 year. Photo by Karol Placha Hetman

In commercial aviation, the time is approaching when there will be only one pilot-captain in the cockpit of a commercial plane flying at an altitude of 37,000 ft. In 2010, the head of one of the largest low-cost airlines Ryanair, Mr. Michael O'Leary, threw the slogan - "One pilot in the cockpit". And there was a press lynching on Mr. Michael O'Leary. Is it right? We will try to present a few historical facts.

In commercial aviation, the term "crew" refers to qualified and licensed personnel necessary for the flight and maintenance of the aircraft while it is moving in the landing area and in the air. This staff is divided into cockpit crew, i.e. pilots and cabin crew, i.e. flight attendants and flight attendants. The number of these people in the plane depends not only on the number of passengers on board, but also on the necessary number of personnel in emergency situations (emergency landing on water, evacuation). The team of flight attendants is managed by the chief of the deck (a flight attendant or a flight attendant with appropriate qualifications and seniority) who reports to the captain of the aircraft. Licensed airmen occupy the cockpit; pilots, flight engineers, navigators and radio operators. The cockpit is the cockpit of the pilots, while the cabin is the passenger cabin. The number of cabin crew depends on the instructions to evacuate passengers from the compromised deck and on the standard of service preferred by a given airline. The average passenger will not notice that there are fewer flight attendants on board than there should be, because they will only wait longer for their drink.

It's a bit different in the cockpit. The number of cockpit crew members depends on the type of aircraft, its equipment, and the degree of automation of the pilot and navigation processes. The minimum number of cockpit crew is always specified in the airplane maintenance manual and cannot be reduced. However, it is permissible to enlarge the crew, for example by a trainee, inspector, instructor training or checking the skills of the crew.

In the 1970s, there were already two standards in the free world; in airplanes carrying up to 30 passengers - two pilots, in airplanes carrying more than 30 passengers - three airmen. With the launch of SAAB-340, ATR-42, DSAH-7/8 (with two pilots) on the market, this number of passengers was increased to 100 passengers.

At the beginning of the 1980s, a row broke out in the aviation community that, in planes C and higher, airlines demanded two-person crews from manufacturers. The crews and the trade unions representing them revolted.

However, the crash of June 26, 1988, of the A 320-100 F-GFKC No. 009, which happened at a small airport in Habsheim near Mulhouse in central France, ultimately deprived of any argument for maintaining a three-man crew. In addition, just before the impact with the ground, the pilots talked about private topics, not about the already critical situation in the air. These pilots were drag instructors, the highest level in commercial aviation.

In 70 years, after analyzing several accidents, it was indicated that about 70% of air accidents are caused by human error. Moreover, bad cooperation among the crew had a huge contribution to these accidents. Often, it was based on the co-pilot's or mechanic's fear of undermining the captain's decision.

One of the ways to solve this problem was CRM (Crew Resource Management), i.e. Crew Resource Management. Currently, each crew member must undergo training in multi-crew cooperation. The crew must be able to cooperate with each other. The co-pilot must be assertive and state his opinion, the captain must be able to take a different opinion and admit when he is wrong. This is not his weakness, but effective and concerted action. It is important that the messages are clear and unambiguous. The message should be clear and confirmed with feedback. The ambiguity of the statements is a premise for the incident. It is obvious that formally the captain makes the decisions and is responsible for his crew. But it has to be the commander who makes up the team, not a bunch of individualists. The entire team must be aware of the priorities at all times; flight path and parameters.

In a two-man crew, the distribution of tasks in the cockpit is as follows; One of the pilots performs the role of "Pilot flying" (PF), and the other is assisting him as a PNF (non-flying pilot). For example, if a failure occurs during a flight, the pilot performing the role of "Flying Pilot" in a given flight only cares about keeping the plane in the air (responsible for piloting), and the assistant pilot (PNF) performs all other activities (checking checklists, dealing with the consequences of an accident, liaising with ground services). Usually pilots switch roles. Before the flight, crews should have a briefing and discuss everything that awaits them during the cruise.

At the beginning of the 90s, the level of automation of individual flight phases was already very good and with a high degree of reliability. Computers (processors) already dominated in navigation and control. Even such flying giants as the B 747-400, MD-11, and A-340 had crews of two. It has been proven that under normal conditions and in emergency situations, two people can cope with any foreseen problem. However, then the work load factor may be maximum here.

When the crew was three people, the classic division of tasks was like this; the flying pilot was assigned piloting and command, the cooperating pilot - communication and navigation, the flight engineer - supervision of the engines and on-board systems. After the elimination of the third crew member, the remaining two took over his duties. But we must remember that the number of engines in the power unit has decreased from four to two, and it is more reliable.

Practice has shown that a two-person crew makes decisions much faster and more accurately than three people. There are no type consultations; "all hands on deck". Time deficit occurs less frequently. Even the Muscovites for their then new Tu-204 aircraft introduced a two-man crew.

At this point, it is worth taking a look at what it was like in the only right system, i.e. socialism. (Communism could not be built because socialism collapsed). In the Tu-154 aircraft operating manual, issued by the manufacturer, the cockpit crew consists of four people; a captain, co-pilot, flight engineer and a freelance crew member not even assigned any duties, also in emergency situations. (Let me remind you that we are talking about a commercial plane, not a military variant). At the Krakow market, the fourth member of the crew was assigned the function of a navigator.

At LOT Polish Airlines, which operated equipment with CCCP, the model of the crew from Aeroflot was uncritically adopted. There were five people in the Ił-18 and Ił-62 aircraft in the cockpit. In the end, the 70-year-old managed, with great reluctance, to resign from the fifth crew member - the on-board radio operator. Attempts to reduce the Tu-134 and Tu-154 crews to three people were unsuccessful. Crew reduction advocates have exposed the traditionalists and their slogan about an extra pair of eyes and ears on board.

The point, however, is that safety does not depend on the number of links in the chain, but on the quality of these links. The eternal Soviet model saw and saw the threat from all sides and at all times. This is a kind of psychosis. Being ready for armed conflict at any time. The second reason, no longer articulated so loudly, is the lack of perfect command of the English language. Today no one remembers how embarrassing and comical sometimes the correspondence in the air, comrades from the east, was. At LOT Polish Airlines, there was a rule that at least one person should be fluent in English. For justification; they knew Russian fluently. Fortunately, the Soviet equipment, not bad in concept, poorly made, has become a thing of the past. Since 1989, Boeing and ATR reigned, and two people in the cockpit.

In 2008, there was an air incident in the US. The plane was flying from Honolulu to Hilo. There were 40 passengers on board. Both airports are located on two different Hawaiian islands. The pilots fell asleep during this flight. As the flight was short, the pilots missed the landing site. The controller on the ground managed to make contact with the crew, far beyond the destination airport. He thought the plane was hijacked or the crew passed out. The machine had to turn around. The pilots were dismissed from their jobs and for a certain period lost their license to practice. They also stood before the Federal Flight Administration Commission and were accused of endangering travelers.

In 2012, KLM's low-cost Transavia B 737 was flying from Amsterdam to Crete. The captain went to the toilet. After returning, he could not get into the cockpit because the co-pilot did not answer the call via the intercom. Fortunately, with the help of the cabin crew, he got inside and found the pilot sleeping.

In 2011, the Norwegians conducted a study which showed that one in two Norwegian airline pilots admitted that they had fallen asleep in the cockpit without informing the co-pilot about it. 389 pilots participated in the study by the public radio and television broadcaster NRK. Often the pilots agree that one of them will take a nap during the flight. However, 48% of respondents admitted that without informing the co-pilot they had fallen asleep in the cockpit "at least once". Another 2% do it "often".

It turned out that the pilots work 60 hours a week. 50 hours a week is standard. There are daily wages of 13 hours 5-6 days in a row. 40% of pilots worked longer than 14 hours a day in the last month. Pilots admit their mistakes and cite fatigue as the reason. Over 90% of pilots admit that the pressure exerted on them poses a safety risk. This is the result of the pursuit of profit at any cost. The results of the research conducted confirm the thesis that the problem results from fatigue and overwork, although this may be surprising, because aviation regulations are, in civilized countries, the same and very restrictive.

Or is routine the problem? Do the same activities thousands of times. Plus, taking shortcuts and inappropriate habits. This applies not only to flying personnel, but also to ground personnel. I will mention the tragedy that happened on the night of July 1, 2002, at Lake Constance on the Swiss-German border. DHL's Boeing 757 transport collided with a Russian Tu-154 aircraft. The Boeing 757 was flying from Bergamo to Brussels. There were only two pilots and a freight on board. The Tu-154 flew on a charter flight from Moscow to Barcelona. There were 69 people on board, including 46 children and an exceptionally large crew. Two pilots, a navigator and two instructor-controllers, because the flight was decided to be used as a test flight. Interestingly, both aircraft were equipped with collision warning devices, TCAS. Unfortunately, there was only one controller working on the ground, and additionally some of the radar devices were under renovation. The crew of the Boeing 757 began descending after the TCAS signal and informed the controller about it, but he did not hear this information. The controller ordered the crew of the Tu-154 also to descend. There was consternation on board that their TCAS was ordering them to climb, but it was decided to follow the controller's instructions. There was a tragedy. All 71 people died, including 46 children. The case was extremely painful and even led to lynching. The desperate parent murdered the controller. But the crux of the matter was that there should be two controllers working tonight. The second one, after coming to work, simply went ... to sleep. I guess they both swapped like that. As it turned out, the controller in a simple layout; three planes in the controlled area, failed to cope. Two were supposed to work at night, because the system was designed for two, not one person. There were two positions. Probably, if there was one suitable position, the controller would be able to handle it easily, and so he rode on the chair from one console to another. This tragedy is a clinical case of air traffic control failure.

One would have to wonder if alcohol is the reason for sleeping at work. Drunkenness is said to be the domain of Eastern Europe and third world countries. But even at Okęcie Airport in 2008, there was a case where a drunk North American cargo plane pilot, after an intoxicating night, was going to fly to the Far East. Fortunately, the rest of the crew were completely sober.

The history of a 70-year-old Polish flight attendant LOT Polish Airlines, who got off the plane at the airport in Rome, has already passed into an anecdote. But she got out before the stairs were placed under the plane. The unfortunate woman was taken to the hospital with her legs broken, and it turned out that she was intoxicated.

It is worth listening to the pilots themselves talk about their problems while working;

  • airlines require the crew to refuel only enough fuel to reach their destination, plus a minimum reserve. With such a supply of fuel, it is impossible to avoid a storm or to overcome a strong headwind.
  • the lines often do not give the crew enough time to rest or eat a sandwich. In order not to be hungry, they sometimes delay their flight.
  • pilots often have problems getting to the plane they are going to fly on. Poor information and a long way to the remote machine at the far end of the airport.
  • there are situations when pilots work 16 hours a day, longer than truck drivers.
  • Pilots tell passengers what they want to hear, i.e. they don't talk about problems.
  • some recipes are illogical. Staff are allowed to distribute drinks when there is turbulence, and when the plane is taxiing (around 35 km / h) the flight attendants are strapped in seat belts like racing car drivers.
  • Pilots do not like short RWYs, because the margin for error is small there.
  • Landing is the most difficult part of flight for any pilot. The greatest praise is the phrase - "Great landing."
  • the clapping of passengers after landing is not heard in the cockpit. Besides, you shouldn't clap as soon as the wheels touch the ground. There is a whole run-up ahead of us and everything is possible, for example a tire shot and we fall out of RWY. You can clap when the plane leaves RWY.
  • there should be separate seats and car seats for children. Car seats are compulsory, not in airplanes.
  • everyone wears a seat belt in a car on the highway. On the plane, as soon as the "fastened seat belt" signal goes off, almost everyone unfastens them, even though they are still sitting and not going to the toilet. And all you need is more turbulence and the passenger has bruises.
  • a good percentage of passengers believe that they are the only ones on board. These are difficult situations and it is a pity that such a guy cannot be set off.
  • pilots have no objection to using laptops and other electronic devices. They do not affect the operation of the aircraft systems. However, it is important that the passenger accepts all messages and instructions and obey them.
  • compulsory pilot uniform is not conducive to comfort. Whenever they can, for example in cargo flights, they change into non-binding outfits; T-shirts and short pants. A tie and a stiff collar should be a thing of the past a long time ago. A loose shirt, stretch pants and indoor shoes are a dream of many pilots.

On April 1, 2014, information appeared about a new aviation program implemented by Bombardier in Canada. The project was designated New Road and included Cseries 100/300 aircraft. This program is based on the use of semi-automatic cockpit operation. This means that there will be one captain in the cockpit. In case of problems, he will have a pilot who, while on the ground, will have at his disposal a "cabin" fully computer-connected with the plane in the air. Similarly to the US Army, it is piloting BAL (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in Afghanistan. These technologies have been used successfully for many years during unmanned aerial vehicle flights. Even if the pilot on the plane lost consciousness, this pilot on the ground will bring the machine to the airport safely. The aircraft location in the air using the GPS system is accurate to greater than 10 inches (25 cm). It allows for precise planting the machine at any airport. In 2016, the Cseries 100/300 aircraft will enter service as cargo machines. Passenger flights are scheduled to start in 2020.

If you don't realize it, pay attention to the date!

However, this may be the near future.

However, we would like to point out that the title says - one pilot in the cockpit, not one pilot in the plane. I don't believe in human concentration non-stop for four hours or more. But a flight within two hours is a real effort. In 1996, the Muscovites tested their new Su-34 combat aircraft. Its cabin is a two-person cabin, with next ceach other seats (next to each other). In one of the test flights, the crew made a gigantic flight, with various tasks, which lasted 18 hours. The flight was successful, but the pilots, after leaving the cabin, looked like a photograph from the cross. On board, they weren't even able to stand up and "stretch their bones." Therefore, in the next version, the cabin was raised to allow you to get up for a moment.

In 2010, Ryanair chief Mr. Michael O'Leary announced at a conference in Rome that the airline's co-pilot should serve drinks and sandwiches. At a subsequent conference, he once again expressed the opinion that no co-pilot was needed for short-haul flights. In his opinion, two pilots were needed in the 50 years, when it was difficult to fly the plane. Its aim is to further reduce the ticket prices. Michael O'Leary had other ideas as well; a paid toilet in the plane and standing places on board, about which I wrote on the occasion of another article; "Outline of the history of air navigation 1970-2014. Wide-body planes."

However, Mr. Michael O'Leary has created a European giant out of Ryanair, which will soon carry 100 million passengers a year. The company was founded in 1985. by Tony Ryan and his children. The first connection from the Irish city of Waterford (WAT) to London Gatwick Airport (LGW) was launched in July 1985. In 2012, Ryanair transported approximately 80 million passengers / year in 25 European countries as well as Turkey, Cyprus and Morocco. The lines develop dynamically from the very beginning. In 1985 transported 5,000 passengers, in 1986. - 82 thousand passengers, in 2005. - 27.6 million passengers, and in 2012 - 79.6 million passengers. The company has over 300 planes and serves 1,400 connections. In Poland, the company serves all airports and has two bases; Wroclaw and Krakow. Since 2011, Ryanair has been the market leader in Poland. In several Polish ports, the number of passengers has long exceeded 1 million. 3 million passengers at Ławica Airport, even 1 million at Goleniów Airport. In Krakow, the company serves over 1,600,000 passengers annually.

Well, Mr. Michael O'Leary knows his stuff.

But, it is also a fact that modern Europe is dehumanized. Corporations pressure workers more and more. They reduce the number of employees and their wages. They impose more and more responsibilities. They order the expansion of competences by working in many positions. They extend the number of man-hours. They want an employee on call. They apply flexible billing periods for the work performed. The bosses are bigger and bigger, trained beasts, for whom only bars and cheese count. In many corporations, internal regulations contain guidelines which clearly show that it is possible to sacrifice a person, his health and life, to save machines and devices of considerable material value. Especially in the Republic of Poland, employees of large corporations feel it acutely in a supposedly united Europe. A Europe that now praises perverts, praises deviations, and fights people who live according to Catholic principles with persistence worthy of a better cause.

The article, of course, is not exhaustive and in a few years' time the story will add more paragraphs.

Written by Karol Placha Hetman