ALPA stresses safety benefits of two pilot flight decks

The world’s largest pilots union is insisting that the industry must retain at least two pilots on the flight deck.

The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), which represents over 62,000 pilots at 35 US and Canadian airline has released a new white paper highlighting what it said were the proven safety benefits.

Captain Joe DePete, ALPA president, who recently testified before the US Congress on the current state of aviation safety, affirmed ALPA’s position regarding maintaining the role of – and recognising the importance of – what he termed ‘the most vital safety feature in transport-category aircraft now and for the foreseeable future’: at least two experienced, well-trained, and well-rested pilots on the flight deck.

He said that despite clear evidence that at least two fully qualified pilots on the flight deck is an airliner’s strongest safety asset, some special-interest groups continue to push for reducing the flight crew on board large aircraft – possibly down to even a single pilot – to cut operational costs.

“Airline pilots know – as do our passengers and shippers – that the presence of at least two pilots on board our airliners not only contributes to a proactive, risk-predictive safety culture, it’s the reason why US air transportation is so safe today,” testified Captain DePete.

While current aircraft automation technology can reduce a flight crew’s shared workload, it’s only a tool to assist flightcrew members, who remain responsible for the safe outcome of every flight. However, a growing number of interested entities – including technology companies, airlines, and the military – are seeking to cut operating costs while governmental research organisations are looking to chart new horizons by advocating for reducing the current number of flightcrew members in large aircraft to just a single pilot.

“Pilots are required to control an aircraft in a dynamic environment. We interact with air traffic control, communicate with dispatch, check weather patterns and trends, visually scan for other aircraft, and monitor the performance of multiple engines. Currently, technology cannot adequately replicate or report the sensory information – sounds, smells, and vibrations – a flight crew depends on to safely operate a plane in real-world conditions,” added Captain DePete.

He pointed to an ALPA-commissioned public survey  that indicated that 80 per cent of respondents agreed that two pilots working together is the best option when it comes to problem solving while operating an aircraft. And 81 per cent said they would not be comfortable on a plane that was completely pilotless.