Sunday, February 06, 2011

One Is the Loneliest Number

During a career preparation talk at flight school, an administrator asked my class what we though the greatest single threat to our career progress was. I had a ready answer, "the advent of the single-crew airliner cockpit." I remember getting the most supercilious glare possible from the instructor before being told the correct answer was "recession." I don't think she was thinking long term. Recessions come and go, was my opinion. But once the airlines' pilot complement halves, it's game over.

She said that would never happen, but while it isn't as inevitable as death, taxes, and the next recession, it's not an impossibility. It would require a lot of advances in automation, and telemetry, and security, but such things have considerably reduced the number of people in airplane cockpits over the years. It's a bigger jump from two to one, but I don't think it could never happen. It would make flying a lot less fun and somewhat less safe, but probably more cost effective for the airlines. At first. Then after twenty years or so of the system operating, accidents would spike. As much as I rant about both people in the pointy end being pilots, and the first officer/co-pilot not being a trainee, there is a bit of an apprenticeship going on. The new hire FO doesn't know as much about flying an A320 as the captain does (and sometimes the new hire direct-entry captain doesn't know as much as the experienced FO) but together they have the experience to get the job done. The pilot with the experience appropriate to a situation will take over if they suspect the conditions may be beyond the other's abilities. The newer pilot learns from the other and gains experience without it having to be paid in blood or bent metal. By having to be the person who knows what is going on, even if you don't, you learn more. Kind of like being a parent. Having a single-crew cockpit with a ground-based telemetric backup wouldn't provide the same apprenticeship-type situation. And that might not be so cost effective in the end.

Ryanair carries most international passengers of any airline in the world. Most of these are short hop European flight. They have cheap tickets, and the cheesiest nickle-and-diming fee structure imaginable. For example, they charge you money, I think it's five euros, as an online check-in fee. But you have to check in online. There is no airport check in available. Your base fare might be only twenty euros, but they charge extra for everything. The obvious jokes about "insert two euros to start the flow of oxygen, then place the mask over your nose and mouth, securing behind your head with the optional (one euro) elastic strap," have all been made. The company even makes the jokes.

It's a little scary because you can't tell when they're serious. The Irish accent is hard to take seriously -- sorry, Irish people, some kind of cultural thing. They're semi-serious about eliminating the copilot, according to this Salon article.

I'm not in a position to replay the YouTube clip out loud right now, so you'll have to tell my why my notes for this post say "strip poker." And if it doesn't make sense, I'll have to make something up about Ryanair getting passengers to play strip poker for available seats, in order to facilitate security screening.


nec Timide said...

Your notes are accurate.

Anonymous said...

He's great to watch isn't he?

I would never fly Ryanair but I love his publicity.

Unknown said...

been there! nice shiny modern fleet, gung-ho pilots (fastest, bounciest taxi, almost a drift at the r/way turnround, then "balls to the wall" from a fast rolling start :-) ) all crew smart and attentive.....yes, they do screw you for everything except the air you breathe, but a 2-hour flight for less than the cost of 500 miles driving, is, imho, fantastic value from MOL's aerial cattle-trucks.
I'm sure a lot of his publicity-generating "ideas" are tongue in cheek.

Pay for the toilet and discard seating, strap the punters in standing. being 2 that come to mind.

cheap and safe , but he'd probably go one-pilot ops like a shot, if it were legalised!.

sean said...

This post was very well timed for me. As you are discussing the training relationship between pilot and co-pilot, I had just finished reading Captain Dave's accounts of that very training relationship.

I would recommend reading it as a companion to this post.

Aviatrix said...

Sean: there's a post coming next week that includes notes on the kind of captain Dave isn't.

Anonymous said...

As a Brit, I've found his flights less than attractive, and would rather pay more to fly with another shop at the start and finish of a decent holiday.


Anonymous said...

The day of the single pilot airliner... Oh, yeah, it is coming, for sure. As soon as the public accepts that, wait for the pilotless cockpit with only a computer technician riding along... The drone pilot will be sitting at company headquarters.

Sarah said...

As soon as the public accepts that, wait for the pilotless cockpit with only a computer technician riding along...The day of the single pilot airliner... Oh, yeah, it is coming, for sure. -- Captain Dave.

As a programmer, the I shudder at the thought of software alone responsible for hundreds of lives. As a technician, I'd have to say the tech wouldn't be riding along. He or she'd be sure to keep a pager on thoug, just in case.

Dutch M said...

Nothing wrong with Ryanair. You get what you pay for. Just leave everything at home you won't use anyway and you comfortably travel lightweight for a city trip or short business trip, on time, cheap. Plan pre and post flight transport carefully and even that works out fine. Done that many times.

Don't worry about the single pilot or toilet charges, that's just marketing gimmicks to get attention.