Can commercial aircraft be remotely controlled?

Fedex tests flights with only one pilot

Pilots shouldn't necessarily be happy about what Fedex and Sikorsky are currently testing. In times when many jobs are already under scrutiny, an ATR 42 from the logistics giant took off on February 10th at Waterbury-Oxford Airport in the state of Connecticut in the USA. It was a test flight for software that should make the second pilot in the cockpit superfluous, reports the portal The Air Current.

It is the largest commercial plane that has ever taken off with the help of such software. But it shouldn't be the last. In the freight sector in particular, providers have long been flirting with a cockpit in which only one person is at the wheel. Because that would significantly reduce their personnel costs.

Airbus and Boeing are doing research

The debate on how many people are needed in the cockpit is also in full swing in Europe. The European aviation authority Easa is dealing with the issue, as its boss Patrick Ky recently explained. Soon there could be looser regulations for the cruise phase. Further easing could follow a little later, Ky said.

And at some point, entire flights with just one pilot may be possible, according to the Easa boss. Research in this direction has been going on for a long time. In the UK, BAE Systems is testing a converted Jetstream 31 that will fly all by itself. And Airbus and Boeing are also working on pilotless aircraft. They argue the risk will not increase as 90 percent of accidents are due to human error.

Association cockpit warns

The German union Vereinigung Cockpit VC, however, is critical of this. "Regardless of the flight phase, we reject reducing the cockpit crew to a single pilot," says Björn Reimer, who is responsible for safety issues. "With the current technical possibilities, that would jeopardize the very high level of safety in commercial aviation."

While the introduction of the one-man cockpit is generally more likely to be seen on cargo flights, it will take even longer for passenger flights. The reason is that travelers still lack acceptance of the technical revolution. But there are also skeptical voices from the cargo world. «Our planes fly to the world's major cities. These airports are tight and there is a lot of traffic. There is a lot that is unpredictable. And things that are unpredictable now need human intervention, ”said Lufthansa Cargo boss Peter Gerber in an interview with aeroTELEGRAPH.