Embraer is preparing for the possible introduction of airliners designed for single-pilot operation by as early as 2020, following the roll-out of next-generation air traffic management systems in Europe and the USA.
Vice-president for airline market intelligence Luiz Sergio Chiessi says the Brazilian manufacturer is looking to provide "single-pilot capability, at least" in the 2020-25 timeframe.
He cautions, however, that much work needs to be done to persuade the travelling public, regulatory authorities and unions that the concept is feasible.
"It's very difficult to predict that this is going to happen, but I believe that we will have to provide capability for eventual implementation into the real world," says Chiessi.
Embraer is the first airliner manufacturer to publicly acknowledge it is in the early stages of studying single-pilot airliners.
"Airlines are not coming to us with the idea - this is more a vision that we have. We believe that it is technically possible, but we don't know if it is going to be accepted by the public and the authrorities," says Chiessi.
"We believe that by 2020-25 the technology will be available, mainly due to the evolution of the air traffic management systems: NextGen in the USA and SESAR in Europe. We believe that the functions that will come with these new ATM systems will create the possibility of single-pilot [airline operations].
"We haven't moved that far in terms of how to implement the concept. This is more a vision of the future than something that was fully analysed in terms of bits and bytes."
Allowing single-crew operation of airliners would provide substantial savings for airlines and help to alleviate forecast pilot shortages once the industry returns to sustained growth.
Some lower-end business jets such as Embraer's Phenom family are already certificated in certain states for single-pilot operation under Part 91 rules, but customers sometimes demand a two-pilot crew even if it is not required.
"With the electronics you can make a lot of the [cockpit] functions automatic," says Chiessi. "If you take the checklist of a conventional aircraft, for every 10 items you have, there are one or two on the Phenom. Every other action is being taken care of by the electronics."
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