A place for one
Airlines would like to bring the moment when the flight crew of an aircraft will be a one-member crew as soon as possible. Regulators and manufacturers are looking at this with great care. Alexander Efremov, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Head of MAI Department 106 "Aircraft Dynamics and Control", head of the laboratory of the NCMU "Supersound", told about the prospects, pros and cons of such innovation.
After all, why did the question of replacing two pilots with one arise at all?
We are gradually moving towards the transition to a single-member crew, work in this direction is now underway all over the globe. There are only two main motives: saving money and reducing the number of accidents due to the human factor: according to ICAO statistics, approximately 75% of aviation accidents are caused by pilot.
Moreover, the reduction in the number of pilots on board is due to the layout of the aircraft. We at MAI and a number of other organizations are working on creating a new concept and conducting fundamental research on a new generation of supersonic passenger aircraft. To fly at supersonic speeds, such an aircraft must have a very narrow fuselage. This means that two pilots in one row will not fit there. It turns out that you need to put either only one or one after the other.
How will the transition be carried out from a technical point of view? After all, the ground infrastructure, the transmission of information, and the cockpit itself must change.
Of course, the question of how to leave one person in the cockpit without increasing the load on him, and at the same time correctly distribute all the functions performed by the left and right pilots is a very difficult task. Especially during takeoff and landing, where there is maximum interaction between both crew members.
First of all, a lot of work should be done as far as the displays are concerned. It is necessary that the aircraft is easily piloted both under normal and abnormal conditions.
Regarding interaction with the ground in emergency situations, one of the current trends is the possibility of transferring control of the aircraft to the ground crew. This is a very difficult and expensive task. And, of course, the reliability of all systems should be much more higher.
It is a very interesting question about the systems. After all, more and more functions of aircraft control are transferred from a person to a computer. What kind of work is currently being done in this area in MAI?
Now we are working very intensively on a forecast display, which should reduce the influence of the human factor, which is a frequent cause of accidents. It will increase the accuracy of piloting and significantly relieve the pilot, who will not have to monitor a dozen instruments at once.
Tests of the display in extreme conditions have already proved its effectiveness. According to the results, this method of presenting information makes it possible to increase the accuracy of piloting by about 3-4 times, calmly cope with atmospheric disturbance and make a safe landing.
How difficult is it to land a huge plane by ground forces?
This can be done, but there are a number of specific problems. For example, the signal from the ground to the aircraft can be delayed up to 1.5 seconds. This is a lot, and in manual control mode that might lead to a natural disaster. We are working on how to compensate for this by developing certain algorithms, but so far all the work is at the research level. All these innovations require many years of refinement.
When, from your point of view, can we expect that the plane will be operated by one pilot?
This is not a prospect of two or three years, but a much more distant horizon. I think about 20 years. At the same time, the obstacle to a quick transition is not only the solution of a number of technical problems I mentioned above. There is also a psychological issue. Would you agree to get on a plane with one pilot? And without a pilot at all? Ask yourself.Nevertheless, gradually, as automation and intellectualization of on-board systems are improved and implemented, this psychological barrier will decrease.