PARIS: Cathay Pacific is working with Airbus to introduce “reduced crew” long-haul flights with a sole pilot within the cockpit a lot of the time, trade sources instructed Reuters.
The programme, identified inside Airbus as Project Connect, goals to certify its A350 jet for single-pilot operations throughout high-altitude cruise, beginning in 2025 on Cathay passenger flights, the sources stated.
High hurdles stay on the trail to worldwide acceptance. Once cleared, longer flights would change into doable with a pair of pilots alternating relaxation breaks, as an alternative of the three or 4 at the moment wanted to keep up at the very least two within the cockpit.
That guarantees financial savings for airways, amid uncertainty over the post-pandemic economics of intercontinental flying. But it’s more likely to encounter resistance from pilots already hit by mass layoffs, and security issues about plane automation.
Lufthansa has additionally labored on the single-pilot programme however at the moment has no plans to make use of it, a spokesman for the German provider instructed Reuters.
Cathay Pacific Airways confirmed its involvement however stated that no resolution had been made on eventual deployment.
“While we are engaging with Airbus in the development of the concept of reduced crew operations, we have not committed in any way to being the launch customer,” the Hong Kong provider stated.
Commercial implementation would first require intensive testing, regulatory approval and pilot coaching with “absolutely no compromise on safety”, Cathay stated.
“The appropriateness and effectiveness of any such roll-out as well as (the) overall cost-benefit analysis (will) ultimately depend on how the pandemic plays out.”
It added: “Having said that, we will continue to engage with Airbus and to support development of the concept.”
Airbus has beforehand disclosed plans so as to add single-pilot functionality to the A350, however the airways’ participation had not been reported. Work has resumed after the COVID-19 disaster paused the programme, chief take a look at pilot Christophe Cail stated.
“We’ve proven over decades we can enhance safety by putting the latest technology in aircraft,” Cail instructed Reuters, declining to establish challenge companions. “As for any design evolution, we are working with airlines.”
Safe deployment would require fixed monitoring of the solo pilot’s alertness and very important indicators by on-board techniques, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has stated.
If the flight encounters an issue or the pilot flying is incapacitated, the resting co-pilot may be summoned inside minutes. Both stay within the cockpit for take-off and touchdown.
“Typically on long-haul flights, when you’re at cruise altitude, there’s very little happening in the cockpit,” EASA chief Patrick Ky instructed a German press briefing in January.
“It makes sense to say, okay, instead of having two in the cockpit, we can have one in the cockpit, the other one taking a rest, provided we’re implementing technical solutions which make sure that if the single one falls asleep or has any problem, there won’t be any unsafe conditions.”
Pilot teams have voiced alarm.
“We struggle to understand the rationale,” stated Otjan de Bruijn, head of the European Cockpit Association representing EU pilots.
Invoking the 737 MAX disaster, which uncovered Boeing’s inappropriate hyperlinks to United States regulators, De Bruijn stated the programme’s cost-cutting strategy “could lead to higher risks”.
Single-pilot operations, at the moment restricted to planes with as much as 9 passengers, would want backing from United Nations aviation physique ICAO and nations whose airspace they cross. China’s help is essential to any Cathay deployment.
EASA plans consultations this yr and certification work in 2022, whereas acknowledging “significant risk” to the 2025 launch date, a spokesman stated.
In a closed-door trade briefing this yr, the company prompt that reduced-crew flights would start with a single operator, based on notes of the assembly reviewed by Reuters.
Airbus has designed an A350 autopilot improve and flight warning system modifications to assist a lone pilot handle failures, sources near the challenge stated. Use of a specifically designed unisex rest room can be doable throughout the shift, in coordination with air site visitors management.
The mid-sized airplane is appropriate due to its “emergency descent” function that rapidly reduces altitude with out pilot enter within the occasion of cabin depressurisation.
Proponents counsel single-pilot operations could also be accepted by a flying public used to crew leaving the cockpit for rest room breaks. They additionally level to increased error charges from human pilots than automated techniques.
Both arguments miss the purpose, based on a supply near Lufthansa – who stated that the airline’s executives had been suggested final yr that the programme couldn’t meet security objectives.
Flying solo for hours is a “completely different story”, the supply stated, citing the 2009 AF447 catastrophe for instance of malfunctions occurring in cruise. The Air France A330’s co-pilots misplaced management after its velocity sensors failed over the Atlantic, whereas the captain was resting.
“Airbus would have had to make sure every situation can be handled autonomously without any pilot input for 15 minutes,” the supply stated. “And that couldn’t be guaranteed.”
Lufthansa has not withdrawn from Project Connect and stays concerned as an adviser, its spokesman stated.
While the airline has no plans to deploy single-pilot operations, he added, “the suggestion that Lufthansa was an essential part of the project and then pulled back is not true”.
Single-pilot functionality would add an A350 gross sales argument, specialists say, and rival Boeing lacks an equal mannequin with ample automation.
Filippo Tomasello, a former EASA official, stated the payroll and lodging financial savings for long-haul crew wouldn’t be misplaced on airways.
“COVID may end up accelerating this evolution because it’s putting tremendous economic pressure on aviation,” Tomasello predicted.
“If EASA certifies this solution, airlines will use it.”