NASA Investigates Single Pilot Operations in Commercial Aircraft
NASA is investigating the idea of aircraft with a single pilot (“Single Pilot Operations,” or SPO), rather than the two in use today. The key is that a second officer is present as well – on the ground, The ground officer is monitoring 12 planes at once.
[…] a specialized two-position ground control station where the operator when sitting in the right seat fills the role of “super dispatcher” for as many as 12 single-pilot airliners in cruise flight. If one of the 12 aircraft enters an “off-nominal” state due to an issue or anomaly, the ground station operator moves to the left seat and becomes a ground-based first officer dedicated to that aircraft.
If there’s a really big problem, the ground officer can take control of the plane remotely.
In a contingency, which has to be triggered by the captain, the super dispatcher transitions into dedicated support mode as a first officer in the left seat of the ground station; the pilot and first officer then conduct a briefing over an open microphone loop to assign duties, including who will fly the aircraft (the first officer flies via inputs to the auto-flight system in the mode control panel representation in the ground control station).