Why two pilots on the flightdeck?
Because it works?
Actually it often doesn't.
of the most frequently-cited examples of this failure is the Eastern
Airlines Lockheed TriStar accident back in 1972. On a night approach to
Miami there was a problem with the landing gear indication, and the crew
of three (two pilots and a flight engineer) fixated on that while the
aircraft quietly descended into the Everglades, killing 5 crew and 94
The theory, of course, is that
while one pilot is flying an aircraft, the other pilot is watching to
make sure he flies right. It's called monitoring.
In theory! But it often doesn't work that way.
Boeing's Capt Philip Adrian described it at the Royal Aeronautical
Society last week, the Eastern accident - and many others like it since
then - was a case of three pairs of eyes "monitoring all the way to
You have to be sure you are monitoring the things that really matter.
having a look again at the monitoring issue because statistics show
that, unless two pilots in a crew have a really well-coordinated working
relationship, there might as well be only one.
a pilot has been trained via the (relatively new) MPL route, s/he was
trained to fly as an individual, without any help, and without being
trained (or tested) in people management skills (for which read crew
The reward for the individualistic training system is a CPL, which becomes an ATPL just by accumulating airborne time.
you are on your own in charge of an aeroplane, life may get busy
sometimes, but at least you are definitely in charge; there's no-one
there to confuse you. And flying is pretty simple anyway...
So, why two pilots? Well, if we want to understand where we are, it helps to understand where we came from.
about 1930 to 1980 it was like this: the Captain knew what He was
doing, and the copilot would do what he was told. The copilot wasn't
actually much use, he was just doing apprenticeship time.
aeroplanes got bigger and more complex, the Flight Engineer was added
the crew. The Captain and Fight Engineer talked, and heeded each other's
While the Captain was doing the
flying, the copilot did what he was told and quietly got on with tasks
he hoped might be useful.
When the copilot was
doing the flying, the Captain's job was to give him a hard time and
make a man of him (heaven help the few female copilots in the business
at the time).
In the 1970s Flight Engineers
were gradually made redundant by automated technology, and the Captain
suddenly found himself quite busy in his fast, complex jet aeroplane. It
gradually dawned on Him that He still had someone to shout at but
no-one to talk to.
In the same decade, crew
resource management (CRM) was invented to try to make the Captain use
the copilot's skills, despite the fact that the Captain knew perfectly
well that the copilot didn't have any.
largely failed until the Traditional Captains began to retire. Even
then, CRM had a bit of an experimental feel about it, and in some
airlines it still does.
In theory, whichever
pilot is doing the flying, the other one assists with simple tasks like
selecting gear or flaps, and making radio calls, but mainly his/her task
is monitoring the PF's actions, the results of those actions on the
flight path, and comparing what is happening with what is intended.
I argued in the previous blog, monitoring is a core piloting task, but
it remains an underrated one. Good monitoring could have prevented
countless fatal airline accidents in the last 20 years. And in most of
them, the captain was doing the flying and the copilot was failing
either to monitor effectively, or to intervene effectively, or both.
One of the most oft-repeated truths at the RAeS conference was that monitoring without an intervention strategy is pointless.
monitoring pilot must be able to challenge what is happening, and be
heeded even if s/he happens to be the junior pilot. Ultimately, for the
captain to say "I have control" is not a problem, but for a copilot to
say it is culturally fraught with complexity, even though it should not
This subject needs the scrutiny it is now being given.