eMCO - SINGLE PILOT OPERATIONS??? - What is it, and is it a good idea?

Imagine you were about to go on a trip you’re super excited about. You get into the air and happen to notice that one of the pilots on duty has left the cockpit and is now resting somewhere else. Many questions could be running through your mind, like ‘What’s happening?’, ‘What about the other pilot?’ or ‘Do you think he’d mind if I asked him about my anxieties about flying?’

Today I’m here with two concepts that come with a great debate - eMCO (No, it’s not a project for my home airport to expand its plot of land.) and SiPO.

I found this topic intriguing, and it got me thinking, “Is it really as bad of an idea as it sounds, or is this just begging for something to go wrong?”. To be truthful, I’m not entirely sure that there’s an answer for that, and there won’t be a definitive one for a little while. In the meantime, let’s dive into the background of these two ideas and their rationale!

eMCO

In my opinion, this is the topic that seems less absurd or risky. It stands for Extended Minimum Crew Operations, and according to the Air Line Pilot’s Association, or ALPA, the whole concept of it is to “only have one pilot be required to remain at the controls for extended periods during cruise, while a second resting pilot would be located outside of the flight deck.” ‘But what would this achieve?’, you might ask. EMCO intends to stretch the maximum flight time limitations by prolonging in-flight rest for pilots. For clarification, this doesn’t mean that there would only be one pilot on the entire flight - just for portions of the flight, there would only be one person at the controls.

eMCO, as well as SiPO, aren’t really well-known or talked about much in the United States - the concept is primarily being mulled over by European agencies. That’s not to say that it’s unheard of here - in fact, there is a major US carrier that I’m sure you’ve heard of that might be on board with eMCO!

According to a Forbes Post ‘Delta And United Contracts Prohibit Single Pilot Cockpits. American’s Doesn’t.’, American Airlines’ contract with its pilot union has a difference to that of Delta or United. American’s contract doesn’t specify that its aircraft will be operated with two pilots, but airlines like Delta and United specifically state that there will be two pilots operating at all times. Basically, Delta and United has said that “regardless of what the FAA has made law, they will always operate with two pilots”. However, American has essentially said, “whatever the FAA sets as minimum, that’s where we’ll go”. (to avoid summarizing the entire lengthy article and using up even more of your time yapping, go check out the article that I linked)

SiPO

SiPO is the shorthand for ‘Single Pilot Operations’, and there’s not much to explain - the premise of it is to have only one pilot at the controls at any given time on a flight. While SiPO might appear similar to eMCO in nature and operation, they pose both different and similar challenges and thus should be treated as two separate types of operations. The difference between the two is the on-board availability of a full 2-pilot crew in the eMCO concept, which is not the case in SiPO.

In an article by the ECA (European Cockpit Association), a section is labeled ‘Augmenting and not replacing human capacity’. This section brings up another complicated concept still in its early stages - AI. In a brief summary, this section talks about how AI is likely to be a part of this matter, and how AI doesn’t replace human capacity, like when it says “The equation ‘2-pilots in the cockpit + AI’ enhances safety. On the contrary, the equation ‘1 pilot in the cockpit + AI’ poses important threats to safety. In the last 10 to 15 years we have seen many cases where technology has compromised safety and only the coordinated work of a crew (two pilots or more) saved the day”. It also states why automation shouldn’t be used to replace a pilot until it is at an even higher standard than it is now. For the full argument and additional information, look at the link!

Complications, concerns, and things that need to be considered

Now, obviously, there are an abundance of issues, concerns, and complications that need to be taken into consideration. They could be of a wide variety, so here are some examples of what I mean:

  • pilot workload being increased
  • pilot incapacitation
  • pilot error - “two brains are better than one”
  • potential hijacking, similar to Germanwings Flight 4U 9525
  • based upon having economic motivations such as increasing pilot flight duty productivity - having the focus on economic gains has shown to have a detrimental effect on society (take a look at Boeing - you’ll see what I mean)

That’s not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this, as I am certain I’ve left out some examples. But as you can tell, there are so many things that need to be considered before either is enacted.

In conclusion, for me, there are positive and negative things to be said for both sides. I think that some people who already have a fear of flying will never step foot on an aircraft being operated by only one pilot, but there could be benefits in employing a concept like eMCO or SiPO that could cancel out issues like that (not to say that people who are scared of flying don’t matter - I’m just talking about on a grander scale). One thing is for sure, though: this will not be implemented in the near future. For better or for worse, only time will tell!

Thank you so much for reading this post today, and for sticking around until the end! If you actually read through this entire post, you’re amazing, as I’m sure that it was rather time-consuming. This was my first post on the IFC of this kind, so let me know how I did, and what I can improve on in the future - it’s greatly appreciated. Also, be sure to share your thoughts and opinions about something like this being implemented, as I’d love to hear from you guys. I hope that you all have a fantastic rest of your day!

Waxy

2 Likes

Don’t like either option at all. I wish they would bring back the FE position up front. Yes I am that old. Sipo is great for small operations with aircraft like the Cessna caravan but jets need a minimum of two crew. Just my opinion on continued flight safety.

1 Like

I don’t think single pilot operations are a good idea in the context of commercial flights. It unnecessarily adds risk to an environment in which pilot error exists.

If the bottom line for an airline comes down to pilot productivity, then have them fly less hours, give them more rest in between flights, or just add someone to relieve pilots on flights with only two pilots. Any implementation is going to cost more, but will cost less than the incidents that would result from implementing single pilot operations.

2 Likes

@727Wrench I agree with you on the fact that Cessnas don’t need two pilots, and jets need a crew of two. I think that the ONLY condition I would have is if I owned a private jet, and flew it myself, rather than have someone else fly me around in it. However, I think that eMCO should get a little consideration, but it still doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea.

@nativetoalaska I agree with you on all fronts. All of your points are incredibly valid.

Don’t get me wrong it’s a great idea for the airlines just not a great idea for flight safety in my opinion. I should have clarified that one of the main reasons why I believe this it is due to the possibility of medical issues with the flight crew member. I don’t think you want to see a passenger have no land of jumbo jet at JFK during peak flight times sorry that’s just the way I think about the situation that’s why when the other reasons why can’t disagree with this whole concept overall. Like I said it’s good for the airlines but it’s not good for flight safety. Any commercial pilot worth a grain of salt thinks this way plus drink Cruise you have somebody to keep me company and you can have a decent operational discussions on company stuff or flight stuff or aviation related stuff talk about this flight or a little bit get to know your stuff it’s one of those things it builds true coordination all this crew cohesion. Coming from military aviation environment to it builds Sprite decorps. It also enhances crew resource management or cockpit resource management as well which is the big enhancement to flight safety in the greater scheme of things. I personally love flying with somebody else in my right seat that does this me it somebody that kind of take up work from your work load off handle the radios tune radios minor stuff like that but it helps keep the workload down so you can focus on the main thing flying the damn airplane. That’s just how I look at it and if people disagree they can disagree but that’s my personal opinion on this matter and I love talking about this stuff it’s actually good we have these discussions and try to keep it professional and I do try to do so.

1 Like