Cathay in works to develop single-pilot system for long-haul

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The Hong Kong flag-carrier Cathay Pacific reportedly works with Airbus to develop a single-pilot system for long-haul operations using Airbus A350 aircraft. 

In cooperation with the European aircraft manufacturer, Cathay Pacific aims to develop a program known as Project Connect in order to certify its Airbus A350 aircraft for single-pilot operations on long-haul flights. If the certification process goes by the book, single-pilot operations on long-haul could be starting off in 2025. 

While the Hong Kong-based airline has confirmed its involvement in the project, it also said that there is no final confirmation of its rollout in the future, adding that safety remains the airline’s top priority.

“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,” Cathay Pacific told Reuters in an interview on June 16, 2021.  

The single-pilot system would reduce crew needed on long duration flights. This would cut the number of pilots from three or four to just two, with alternating rest periods during the long-haul operation. If successfully implemented, the single-pilot system would be of service for airlines aiming to reduce costs. Additionally, with the need for only one pilot the demand for that role will be significantly reduced increasing the competition between pilot candidates.

However, for such a project to be successfully implemented, strict testing and certification processes must be in line with the stringent industry’s regulations, as the single-pilot system on long-haul operations might present uncertainty of the safety in emergency situations. For example, sudden medical emergencies could put the captain out of commission and put the entire flight in danger if there is only one pilot in the cockpit. 

Another roadblock that might need overcoming, if the single-pilot system would be implemented, is the public reception. The single-pilot flights might be met with resistance from the cockpit crew, as it naturally would mean further layoffs in the post-pandemic world.


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