Airbus A320 certified for single-pilot operation

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technology, Airbus A320 family, US Airways, Fixed-wing aircraft, Airbus A320, Flight attendantImage via WikipediaAccording to the press coverage of the US Airways floating tour of the Hudson River, the Airbus A320 has been certified for single-pilot operation. In the old days this airplane would have flown by a crew of two pilots, one titled “Captain” and one with the job title of “First Officer”. One of the two pilots would have been handling the stick and rudder while the other pilot worked the radio, flaps, slats, landing gear, pressurization controls (very critical in this case, since a jetliner ditching usually involves dumping the cabin pressure and then sealing the cabin just before impact). Generally these roles are swapped after each leg of a trip. The “pilot monitoring” role can be tougher than the “pilot flying” role when things go wrong. The stick and rudder stuff is what pilots have been doing since their first flight in a Cessna. Furthermore, all airplanes respond in a similar way to stick and rudder commands. The systems and switches on a modern airliner, however, are extremely complex and unique to a particular airplane type. For knowing what switch to push and in what order, experience gained on a previous airplane is of no value.


From reading the New York Times, we learn that Chesley B. Sullenberger III was the pilot of US Airways 1549 and he was apparently working everything in the cockpit by himself, a truly remarkable achievement.


[A reader of the London Times, by contrast, would have learned that the A320 is flown by a two-pilot crew and that the first officer was Jeff Skiles (profile).]


[News accounts have not spent a lot of ink on the people who did the toughest job in this incident: Shelia Dail, Donna Dent, and Doreen Welsh, the flight attendants. Being a pilot is a fairly straightforward job in a tightly controlled environment (except when both engines quit!). The flight attendants, however, face unique situations depending on who shows up as a passenger. In their training and drills they have to evacuate a fully-loaded airplane within 90 seconds.]

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