This week in Europe - Only one pilot? A dispute over cockpit crews

El capitán piloto Pete Gamble, izquierda, y el primer oficial John Konstanzer realizan una verificación previa al vuelo antes de despegar del aeropuerto de Dallas Fort Worth.
El capitán piloto Pete Gamble, izquierda, y el primer oficial John Konstanzer realizan una verificación previa al vuelo antes de despegar del aeropuerto de Dallas Fort Worth. Copyright LM Otero/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright LM Otero/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Stefan Grobe
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In this edition of State of the Union we focus on considerations by the EU aviation safety authority and some airlines to cut one pilot for cost reasons. The pilots are vehemently opposed to this.


The world has gotten used to nonsensical remarks by Donald Trump.

That’s why European leaders rarely comment on them, they usually hold their noses and move on.

But Trump’s suggestion during a campaign rally that the United States would not protect NATO allies who fail to spend enough on defense sparked a rare public backlash.

“Dangerous”, “unhinged”, “appalling” – those were some of the friendlier reactions.

Here’s the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell:

"NATO cannot be an 'a la carte' military alliance, it cannot be a military alliance that works depending on the humor of the president of the US on those days. It is not 'yes, no, yes, tomorrow, no, it depends, who are you?' Now come on, let's be serious. Let's be serious.“

At a meeting of NATO defence ministers this week, participants were also not in a mood to mince words.

“The whole idea of NATO is that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole alliance and as long as we stand behind that message together, we prevent any military attack on any ally," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

"So, any suggestion that we are not standing up for each other, that we are not going to protect each other, that does undermine the security of all of us.”

Stoltenberg also reported record military spending of the alliance.

As budgetary decisions are taken over a period of months, NATO spending cannot be considered a direct response to Trump – who has a track record of hostile remarks about NATO.

It rather reflects a response to Russian aggression and Vladimir Putin.

The higher military spending is being done in a rather difficult economic situation.

This week, European aerospace group Airbus reported its latest earnings. The numbers were mixed, the financial forecast for 2024 was cautious.

In general, it’s a tough financial environment for the aviation industry who is looking toward cutting costs everywhere.

One option under consideration is a reduction of the number of pilots at the controls of an airliner, it’s called the “extended Minimum Crew Operations”, eMCO.

Something that pilots believe is a deeply concerning development that would come at the cost of safety.

To discuss this, we were joined by Otjan de Bruijn, president of the European Cockpit Association.


Below is a transcript of our interview.

Euronews: So, you represent more than 40,000 pilots in 33 countries – tell us why your organisation is against eMCO?

De Bruijn: So, in aviation, we have redundancy and backup for all safety-critical systems. And this philosophy is at the core of modern aviation. To give you an example, on board of large airplanes, every safety-critical system is installed two-fold or three-fold. To prevent this crucial failure currently, there are also two pilots at the controls of an aircraft. Two pilots work as a team. They serve as this critical safety net monitoring system, but also monitor each other, detecting errors and mitigating potential hazards before they escalate.

Euronews: What are the risks associated with a one-pilot-only scheme?

De Bruijn: So, in this concept, when this one pilot is there for hours, during the cruise phase, he or she would need to take a toilet break. And during this toilet break, there would be no pilot. So, what happens, for instance, if at that moment air traffic control asks you to deviate from your flight path if there is an engine fire or smoke developing on the flight deck or a collision warning, I, as a pilot will not be able to be responsible for the safety of my passengers, of my crew and my aircraft.


Euronews: The one-pilot-concept is under evaluation by the EU Aviation Safety Agency. How advanced is this evaluation and have you guys been consulted?

De Bruijn: So, in the last two years, a small group of stakeholders has been consulted in which we, indeed, were also consulted and have been involved. This is the first time in history that the European Aviation Safety Agency is starting rule-making without the purpose of solving a safety issue. Instead, they are introducing many safety issues, and we have no trust in this evaluation process being carried out independently and impartially.

Euronews: What about your employers, the airlines, where do they come down on this?

De Bruijn: Well, it is very simple. It is commercially driven by some airlines who see a potential of saving some money by reducing the number of pilots during long-haul flights. Airlines may be tempted by the prospect of gaining this cost-saving competitive advantage through the elimination of this pilot. However, they may find themselves unpleasantly surprised to discover that commercial incentives are an extremely risky driver in aviation. And if they doubt this, they should simply ask Boeing.

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