Aviation Management Consultant,
The Cabin Crew Role in Reduced Flight Crew Operations
The economic benefits that automation can provide (or is perceived to offer) has motivated considerable research and development to the point that a highly autonomous passenger aircraft flown by a single pilot should be considered a realistic possibility.
While autonomous operations may result in a reduced flight deck complement, no revolution in intelligent vending machines or the use of Able-Bodied Passengers in a planned safety function will replace cabin crew on board aircraft. EASA has proposed consideration of HEMS single-pilot operations being supported by a non-pilot, the emergency doctor, during critical phases of flight. What role could our emergency doctor – the cabin crew – play to support the future reduced flight deck crew operations?
Biases are as old as humans. The proposition that a non-pilot could occupy a ‘front row seat’ will be difficult for many to comprehend, let alone consider. I would submit it’s time for us to start addressing the ‘elephant questions’. How could the cabin crew assist if the onboard pilot requires help? What form could any assistance take? And what training and regulatory changes will be necessary?
As an example, pilot incapacitation procedures require the cabin crew to secure the incapacitated pilot and, if appropriate, remove them from the seat. In reduced flight crew operations, expectations of cabin crew in this event could include occupying a flight deck seat and carrying out radio communications.
This paper will not present solutions; the intention is to promote discussion. There are many issues to consider, from technical to legal, to social, and of course, economic. Let us start the broader conversation about cabin crew support in reduced flight crew operations, and let’s start it now. We may find technical support will not be required, but along the way, we may rethink some of the legacy practices regarding the role of cabin crew and cabin management, which could also be a great outcome.