The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and other unions representing the pilots of nearly 50 commercial airlines have voiced their opposition against proposed legislation which is calling for a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) research and development programme to study single-pilot cargo flights.

Unions including ALPA, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), the Independent Pilots Association (IPA), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (NJASAP) and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) called Section 744 of the Reauthorization Bill “reckless”.

ALPA and its partners argue that technology is not mature enough to support single-pilot flights.

‘Existential threat’

Captain Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president, said: “The inclusion of this unacceptable provision serves as an existential threat to aviation safety and security, the general public, and the airline piloting profession.”

Capt. Dan Carey, president of APA, added: “Cargo and passenger carriers operate the same high-performance jet aircraft, share the same congested airspace, and fly over the same densely populated areas. There’s no logical reason to apply different standards to each.

“Given the threat posed by computer hacking and the accident rates for autonomous vehicles and military and civilian drones, it’s astonishing that policymakers would even consider this notion.”

Flying solo

Last year, a report from UBS found that technically pilotless flight could be operational as soon as 2025 and offer significant cost savings. However, regulation and perception are likely to be the biggest factors in whether pilotless planes actually take off — only 17% of the 8,000 people interviewed would be willing to fly in one.

UBS said, though, the cargo sector could be the first to go pilotless.

“Unlike passengers, cargo is not concerned with the status of its pilots [human or autonomous]. For this reason, pilotless cargo aircraft may happen more swiftly than for passengers. In addition, we believe that the 24-hour nature of much of cargo flights [often taking off or landing in the late and early hours] may be well suited to artificial pilots – with the problems of sleeping hours less of an issue.”

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