Cutting Corners: RyanAir CEO Calls For Computerized Flight

Travel News — By Carlo Alcos on October 5, 2010 at 11:00 am

If you’re a frequent flier, this story may not be the news you want to hear. As the Daily Telegraph reports, dozens of pilots serving aboard British-based airlines fall sick while flying every year. In 2009, the number was 32; the year before that it was 49; and in 2007, 39 pilots became ill in the air. In some of those cases, the plane had to make an emergency landing.

I am sure this is not unusual in the global airline industry. Considering the number of airplanes up there at any given moment, there will be instances like this. Pilots are human, after all, and we’ve all been sick at work one time or another. But these numbers do enforce the need for co-pilots. Which is probably not the stats that RyanAir CEO Michael O’Leary wants to mull over.

O’Leary has been the center of airline cost-cutting attention for a while. His proposals to lower costs include onboard pay toilets and stand-up seating. Recently he threw down the idea of scrapping the co-pilot altogether. As eTurboNews reported, he said,

Let’s take out the second pilot. Let the bloody computer fly it.

In addition according to O’Leary, a flight attendant — trained in landing a plane — could take over in the event something goes terribly wrong. “If the pilot has an emergency, he rings the bell, he calls her in. She could take over,” he is quoted as saying to Bloomberg Businessweek. Patrick Smith from AskThePilot.com doesn’t see things quite the way O’Leary does, to say the least.

Here’s an excerpt from his response on his site:

O’Leary is…perpetuating the irritating myth that jetliners are so automated that they essentially “fly themselves,” with the crew on hand mainly as a backup. The realities of cockpit automation are widely misunderstood and consistently exaggerated…the workload in even the most “automatic” cockpit can be surprisingly high.

This is almost surely not a suggestion that will get taken seriously by regulators. Sadiq Khan — Labour’s transport spokesman — said, “the budget airline model has proved very popular in Britain, but there are limits to the public’s appetite for ‘no frills’ flying. It’s one thing to go without a meal, but compromising on safety is a step too far.”

If the goal of the outspoken RyanAir CEO was to remain in the public spotlight, he just bought himself another 15 minutes.

[Image: ActiveSteve / Flickr]

Tags: auto-pilot, co-pilot, ryanair, safety

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