Although there’s a shortage of pilots in the commercial airline industry, you’ll probably discover that most flights have at least two people in the cockpit. There’s the pilot, and there’s also the copilot. As explained by The Denver Post, U.S. airlines have rules requiring at least two people to be in the cockpit at all times. When the pilot or copilot steps out, another worker like a flight attendant must enter the cockpit to take his or her place. But plane-maker Boeing is looking to develop a new airplane that would require just a single pilot in the cockpit.
Why is Boeing interested in developing a single-person plane? The answer: to help airlines save money. Finding, hiring and maintaining pilots on payroll isn’t cheap. Statistics show that the median annual salary for a commercial pilot in the United States is about $130,000. This number is multiplied by the number of pilots in the cockpit. If an airline is able to reduce the number of pilots in its cockpits from two to just one, it could save a substantial amount of money. Some reports suggest that airlines could save billions of dollars each year by switching to single-pilot planes.
Some people believe that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires airlines to have two pilots in the cockpit at any given time, but this isn’t necessarily true. In 2015, the FAA did have and enforce the two-pilot rule. In 2017, however, the rule was lifted after regulators concluded that it did not make any substantial improvement to the safety of flights. Currently, only the commercial airlines themselves have rules requiring two pilots to be in the cockpit.
According to Boeing’s Charles Toups, a single-pilot plane would likely be used for cargo transport — at least initially. When discussing the aerospace company’s plans to develop a single-pilot plane, Toups said that passenger flights are off the table. Of course, this makes sense considering that a key concern for single-pilot flights is passenger safety. To avoid this challenge, Boeing will create the single-pilot plane for cargo transport. “We are studying that, and where you will first see that is probably in cargo transport, so the passenger question is off the table,” said Boeing’s Charles Toups.
Unfortunately, there’s no timeline set for Boeing’s bold single-pilot plane. Developing a new plane isn’t easy, nor is it fast. It may take Boeing several years or longer before it’s ready to sell its single-pilot plane.