A beautiful clear night, the sight of thousands of stars, flying over the Persian Gulf and suddenly - a loud "Descend, Descend" alert in the cockpit, followed by clear instructions from the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System that requires immediate action in case of another approaching aircraft coming dangerously close. But the plane just keeps flying at the same altitude as if nothing is wrong, just moments away from a possible fatal collision high in the sky. As it turns out – the only active pilot in the cockpit is having a bathroom break with no one at the controls to avert this dangerous situation.
This is one of the many potential catastrophic scenarios which come up in my mind when I hear the plans of manufacturers and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to certify planes with only 1 pilot in the cockpit during the cruise phase of a flight. The plans for this Reduced Crew Operations concept – the so-called ‘eMCO’ (Extended Minimum Crew Operations) – will have in the first instance an effect on long-haul flights. However, these flights often take place over the ocean and at night, and are not exempt from emergencies and abnormal occurrences, as many seem to believe. The unique challenges of the flight environment require having at least two pilots on the flight deck at all times, just like every other flight. This current push to remove pilots from the flight deck dismisses the lessons the global airline industry has learned to reach the high level of safety necessary to safeguard the lives of passengers and aircrews alike.
On all fronts, the aircraft manufacturers – actively supported by EASA – are on an offensive to get this dangerous concept accepted and regulated not only in Europe but worldwide, and quickly so: by 2027.
This is why airline pilot representatives from around the world have joined forces to form a strong alliance in the fight against the introduction of such unacceptable risks and hazards into aviation, our profession, and ultimately to the travelling public. At the recent Annual Conference of IFALPA, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, in Montreal, Reduced Crew Operations was the central concerning theme and the unanimous conclusion of the pilots from all over the world was: This is an unacceptable gamble with safety!
by Otjan de Bruijn, ECA President, Captain Boeing 777