Commercial airline single-pilot operations: System design and pathways to certification

Yixiang Lim, Vincent Bassien-Capsa, Subramanian Ramasamy, Jing Liu, Roberto Sabatini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Global air transport demand is increasing steadily, with the global revenue passenger kilometers (RPK) growing at an annual rate of 4% [1] and the number of passengers rising at an average annual rate of 10.6% [2]. By the end of 2016, it is estimated that 1,420 large commercial airliners will be produced, 40.5% more than was produced five years ago [2]. A consequence of this growth is an exacerbation of the existing global shortage of qualified pilots. Airlines have to hire more than 500,000 new commercial pilots until 2034 in order to meet this unprecedented air transport demand [3]. Additionally, the high costs associated with training and remuneration of pilots has been a substantial economic burden on air carriers, prompting active research into the concept of single-pilot operations (SPO) as an option for the future evolution of commercial airliners. SPO cockpits have already been developed for military fighters as well as general aviation (GA) aircraft, with small business jets like the Cessna Citation I obtaining approval for SPO as early as 1977 [4], however, the last decade has seen considerable interest in the implementation of SPO in commercial aviation. NASA has been conducting SPO-related studies since the mid-2000s [5], [6], while some recent research in Europe has focused on the technical [7] and operational [8] challenges of SPO. In the SPO concept of operations (Figure 1), a single pilot operates the flight deck with increased ground support from a dedicated ground human flight crew. The ground operators (GO) fulfil a role similar to that of a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) operator, providing a combination of strategic and tactical support to the single pilot in collaboration with the air traffic controllers (ATCo).

Original languageBritish English
Article number8039185
Pages (from-to)4-21
Number of pages18
JournalIEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017


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