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Posted by on 27 Mar 2023 in Airline News

Reduced-Crew Operations: Pilot Unions Say No To a Controversial Idea for Commercial Aviation

Reduced-Crew Operations (RCO): Pilot Unions Say No

Leading pilot unions have come out strongly against the concept of Reduced-Crew Operations (RCO) in current or future aircraft like the Boeing 777X shown here.
Photo courtesy Boeing

Reduced-crew operations (RCO) involves flying airliners (and some other large aircraft) with less than two pilots on the flight deck. While some proponents argue that RCO could reduce costs, increase efficiency, and address pilot shortages, others contend that RCO would compromise safety, reliability, and public trust.

RCO have been investigated by various organizations, such as NASA, the FAA, and the EU, using different methods and technologies. Some of the challenges that RCO face include function allocation, workload management, communication issues, pilot incapacitation, data-link security, and certification standards.

The most vocal opposition to RCO comes from pilot unions, such as ALPA, which represent the interests and concerns of professional pilots. Today the union announced, "Pilot representatives from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), the European Cockpit Association (ECA), and Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) vowed to take collective action to protect the flying public and counter an aggressive corporate-led lobbying campaign targeting regulators around the world, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)."

ALPA maintains that having two pilots on the flight deck is still the best safety feature and that there is no compelling evidence to pursue RCO in commercial aviation. ALPA also advocates for crew resource management (CRM), pilot health monitoring systems (PHMS), and threat assessment and response management systems (TARMS) to enhance safety and performance.

According to ALPA, RCO would not only pose a risk to passengers and crew, but also to the airline industry itself. RCO could erode public confidence in air travel, reduce pilot recruitment and retention, and create legal and regulatory uncertainties. ALPA urges the industry to focus on improving current multi-crew operations (MCO) rather than experimenting with RCO.

RCO are still a controversial and unresolved issue in commercial aviation. While some research and development activities continue, there is no clear consensus or roadmap for implementing RCO in the near future. The debate between RCO advocates and opponents is likely to persist as long as safety and efficiency remain in tension in corporate boardrooms of the airline industry.


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