Wearable Technologies as a Path to Single-Pilot Part 121 Operations 2015-01-2440
Labor costs rank second only to fuel in expenses for commercial air transports. Labor issues are a growing concern in the airline industry, with an impending worldwide pilot shortage. One solution proposed and requested by some of the industry leaders is to allow a single flight crew member to operate the aircraft.
Safety concerns represent the dominant barrier to single-pilot Part 121 operations. The FAA and Congress consistently demonstrate a bias toward conservatism in their regulation of airlines and commercial aircraft. Bureaucrats and the general public fall prey to isolated news stories that highlight pilot error and anchor their viewpoint on further regulating a two-person crew. Yet, in an alarming spate of recent airline accidents, the presence of multiple crewmembers did nothing to prevent, and actually may have contributed to, the crash.
Technology is not the problem. The real challenge is to convince Federal regulators and the flying public that Part 121 operations can be performed as safely with a single pilot as with two. This will require a redesign of the flight deck for next generation aircraft, as well as inclusion of emerging, yet stable, technologies to allow a single pilot to manage workloads traditionally requiring two crewmembers. This paper outlines the framework for a single-pilot flight deck system for Part 121 cargo operations, complete with considerations for training and redundancy. This design is made feasible by the inclusion of wearable devices to assist the pilot with flight deck duties in place of a second pilot.