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Commercial avionics vendors are attempting to visualize what the cockpit of a next-generation widebody might look like 20 years from now. The biggest potential breakthrough from this could be single pilot operations for commercial aircraft.

These innovations are termed “cockpit 3.0” in a classification that ranks the Concorde, with its electromechanical instruments and a processor and display for each sensor, as cockpit 1.0, and glass cockpits with information merged into displays as version 2.0.

Pilots using cockpit 1.0 had a limited number of tools but could master them completely and understand the cause of problems, the more capable cockpit 2.0 in some ways makes it harder for pilots, leaving them little to do when things are going well, but proving complicated to handle when something goes wrong. Furthermore, because pilot decision-making in unusual situations is not well understood, training for these scenarios could be very difficult.

Cockpit 3.0 is likely to feature intelligent interfaces that deduce what the pilot wants to do and help him do it, and would probably monitor crew safety. An eye tracker might see what the pilot is looking at and know it’s not the right tool for the problem, directing him to the right tool or even removing the wrong one from view. Above all, agencies need a fresh look into what Dutch aviation company Fokker once called “State estimation”, which is largely a function of workload, and interpretation of the issue(s) at hand.

In the General Aviation world, inexpensive technologies are being fielded to enable safe recovery from unusual attitudes and automatic routing to alternate airports in the event of aircraft problems. Such techniques could come ito play in the event of single-pilot incapacitation.

Potential hazard

  1. Down-scoping cockpit operations to a single pilot means that the coordinated crew will not be available as a resource for the one pilot remaining on the flight deck.
  2. The complexity of current operations imposes considerable demands on flight crew, particularly under high workload conditions. Moreover, accident investigations indicate that captains have failed, sometimes at critical points in the flight, to take advantage of important resources that are available to them. Moreover, these resources have included not only available equipment and supporting services but the assistance of the coordinated crew.
  3. In a postulated single-pilot, commercial-transport environment, cockpit systems must be provided to create the functionality and safety equivalent to that of current blended-crew task environments. This is a tall order and may not be possible, practical, or politically acceptable.
  4. TSA/DHS: Security aspects of single-pilot operations in U.S. airspace? Protections against rogue single pilots?
  5. Operational problems that occur most often during Single-Pilot IFR (SPIFR) in GA:
  6. Altitude Deviations
  7. Improperly Flown Approaches
  8. Heading Deviations
  9. Position Deviations
  10. Loss of Control

Corroborating sources and comments

January 12, 2015: NASA Advances Single-Pilot Operations Concepts

14 NBAA Top Safety Focus Areas:

As a result of cost reductions and/or entrepreneurial spirit, the necessity to arm pilots with the tools to safely manage single-pilot operations has become more important than ever. The Single-Pilot Safety Working Group provides helpful tools and informative resources, including the annual Single-Pilot Safety Standdown.

Accident rates are consistently higher for single engine piston powered aircraft. Owner flown aircraft face unique challenges; often a lack of guidance, financial support, and clear procedures allow the pilot to use personal discretion without a set standard to measure against.

Next-gen cockpits will be single pilot, posits Thales


Ryanair’s O’Leary Calls for Single-Pilot Commercial Flights


On March 26, 2012, Vertical Power rolled out its VP-400 system, a back-up EFIS that flies the [LSA] aircraft safely to the best runway in an emergency.

The annual incapacitation rate of commercial pilots.

Aeromedical emphasis on minimizing cardiovascular risk and monitoring the mental health of pilots remains appropriate. Age should influence the content and periodicity of regulatory aeromedical assessments. The demonstrated annual incapacitation rate of 0.25% may provide a basis for quantifying the acceptable risk for a pilot undertaking single pilot commercial air transport operations.

Erroneous assumption: By eliminating pilots from the cockpit the (human) error space is reduced, the primary causal factor of fatal accidents will be eliminated, and flying will be safer.

Fact: Multi-crew operations provide human redundancy in the air (the counterpart to hardware redundancy) and detect/prevent far more in-flight incidents and accidents than they cause. A pilot flying Single-Pilot IFR is considerably more likely to make errors than one who has a copilot to help with the workload and catch mistakes (conclusion of ASRS study).

Two-person crews are able to deal with unexpected failures that were not analyzed during design process…


Hardware failures

Security events

Passenger/cargo problems

Operational work-arounds



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