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Hero Qantas captain calls one-pilot aircraft ‘cost-saving ploy’

written by Adam Thorn | January 5, 2023

The Qantas A330 captain hailed for averting a fatal crash in 2008 has become the latest industry figure to criticise plans for one-pilot aircraft.

Kevin Sullivan called the proposals a “cost-saving ploy” and argued that automation should be used as an aid to pilots, not as a replacement.

It comes after more than 40 countries, including Germany, Britain and New Zealand, asked the International Civil Aviation Organisation to help make single-pilot airliner flights a reality.

The plan would save airlines millions in costs and help alleviate a global shortage of talent but has been attacked by planemakers, industry bodies and high-profile figures as endangering safety.


In an interview with The Australian, Sullivan used the example of his most famous flight, in which automation failures struck his A330 flying from Singapore to Perth.

The malfunctions were so severe that the aircraft twice went into a nosedive before he was able to retake control and make an emergency landing on a desert airstrip.

“Three experienced pilots were close to being overwhelmed by cascading failures, computer-generated jet upsets and loss of many automated systems, degrading the operation of the Airbus A330 involved to that of a Cessna 150,” Sullivan said.

“When everything’s working, it’s fine. But when it goes crazy, you want one pilot to deal with that?”

Sullivan’s interview comes after fellow famed Qantas Captain Richard de Crespigny said last year that pilots, passengers and aircraft manufacturers don’t want single-pilot cockpits.

“It flies in the face of risk and safety that we’ve developed over 119 years where aviation was one of the most dangerous forms of travel now — it’s the safest,” he said.

Captain de Crespigny was involved in another one of the airline’s most infamous incidents, when his A380’s engine exploded mid-air.

Despite significant structural and systems damage, Captain de Crespigny and his colleagues in the flight deck — Qantas’ first A380 named after Australian aviation legend Nancy-Bird Walton — managed to return to Singapore Changi Airport for a safe landing.

No passengers or crew were injured.

Investigators later found the failure was due to a fatigue crack in an oil feed-pipe in the number two engine of the aircraft. This led to an internal oil leak and fire, with the turbine disc eventually bursting through the engine casing.

His views were also surprisingly echoed by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who said his airline was “certainly not pushing” to have just one pilot in the cockpit of its aircraft.

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Comments (3)

  • The global, airline single crew initiative is not an experienced air crew concept, this is a skewed airline cost centre, misguided attempt to increase profits.
    The fact that this can even be considered is indicative of gross negligence and a blatant disregard for the travelling public who also happen to be the paying customer.
    Historically, the number of in-flight pilot incapacitation events speaks for itself but this only constitutes a small proportion of high risk mitigation requirements as in- flight emergencies, bad weather events etc. also require the critical advantages of a two crew operation. ICAO, reputable airlines and the travelling public should immediately reject this absurd proposal and all parties involved in promoting this misguided initiative should be sent on formal safety management courses. Colin Weir, CEO Flight Safety Group Australia.

  • Dangerous. I would never fly with only ONE pilot on the flight deck.

  • Alan Joyce has got this right. Only 1 pilot in the cockpit is a disaster in the making.

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