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Pilots decry industry push for solo flying

An Air Canada jets are shown at the gates at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, Thursday, June 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes An Air Canada jets are shown at the gates at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, Thursday, June 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
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MONTREAL -

Pilots are speaking out against an aviation industry push toward having a sole crew member in the cockpit.

At a news conference in Montreal, leaders of three of the world's largest pilot unions representing more than 150,000 workers said a proposal to Europe's aviation regulator aims to boost airline profits at the expense of safety.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is mulling a pitch by plane makers Airbus and Dassault Aviation for some aircraft to be crewed by just one pilot for part of the flight -- though not during takeoff and landing -- by 2027. Currently, two pilots are required at the flight deck throughout the trip.

Jack Netskar, president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, which includes some 6,200 Canadians, said the proposal would create an "unacceptable" safety risk for passengers.

"There is no replacement for the skills and experience of at least two pilots at the controls of the flight deck at all times," he said Thursday.

Some manufacturers frame single-person flying as a solution to labour shortages and pilot fatigue, said European Cockpit Association president Otjan de Bruijn, calling the characterization "misleading and inaccurate."

"It's a gamble with safety," he told reporters.

The concept -- still years away from potential implementation -- would see a flight from Paris to Montreal staffed by two pilots. One would head to the back of the plane to rest once it began to cruise, with the two pilots swapping places halfway through, and both in the cockpit for the first and last 45 minutes of the trip.

Union leaders said they aim to counter a lobbying campaign by the sector targeting regulators around the world, as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Montreal-based United Nations agency's governing body and air navigation commission were slated to weigh the topic further after two working papers were submitted last year, but no resolutions have been adopted, said spokesman Anthony Philbin.

Pilot unions say France-based plane producer Airbus is leading the drive toward "reduced-crew operations," while North American airlines have been reluctant to jump on board.

"It's a sales pitch," said Netskar. "There's probably going to be airlines out there that find this viable --financially viable -- and not considering the flight safety risk you're entering into."

Airbus and Dassault did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Boeing said in an emailed statement that it has "participated in industry discussions" but safety remains its priority, with any new technology serving to strengthen it.

"Part of the reason the aviation system is as safe as it is today is because of what pilots do," the company said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.

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