home > Research and Practices > Thesis: System architecture for single-pilot aircraft in commercial air transport operations

Submitted by Aravind Asokan.

Abstract: Commercial flight operations have seen the consistent reduction of flight crew from five to two over the past several decades. As technology improves and airplanes become increasingly capable of flying themselves, this trend of crew reduction can be expected to continue. Single pilot operations in commercial air transport presents a range of benefits and challenges, some of which are explored in this thesis. While there has been some discussion of the concept of having a single pilot operate a complex aircraft, including an announcement by a regional jet manufacturer of their intent to realize the concept in the first half of the next decade, it is seen that there is a need to define architectures and compare them in different operational contexts. This examination of architectures is conducted by identifying high level concepts or architectural decisions mentioned in the literature reviewed thus far, and creating an architectural space containing the possible constrained combinations of architectural divisions. The architectural space is represented as a safety versus cost trade space, wherein different architectural combinations are compared against present day operations. An attempt is also made to identify possible off nominal situations and the ability of the different architectures to deal with them. Safety is studied primarily as a function of pilot workload, which is identified by studying the movement of flight operations processes from the first officer, who is eliminated. Cost in this context is regarded as a combination of acquisition costs and operating costs. The former is quantified by identifying likely changes in system complexity, while the latter is a combination of crew and new infrastructure costs. Moving to SPO requires taking into account the operating context. The analysis indicates that different classes of aircraft – widebodies, narrowbodies, and regional jets – have different levels of benefits and costs in moving to SPO. Capabilities of automation needs to improve drastically before the second human in the flight deck can be replaced, and this is borne out by the dominance of human centered concepts in the trade space. The analysis also indicates that regional aircraft may be prime candidates to move to SPO first, as most regional architectures generate positive savings.

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