Is one pilot greater than two?

Aviation evolves and some things that were deemed as necessary are no longer needed. Regulations tend to lag behind technological developments, so it often takes time before capabilities are implemented, even when it is technically possible. Other times the paradigm is what lags and old methods stay because of public reception. The next in commercial aviation evolution will be the epoch when commercial flights only have one pilot in the cockpit, instead of today’s standard of two. But to make this a reality some technical and social hurdles need to be overcome.

While two pilots in the cockpit are the standard by today’s measure, it wasn’t always so. It wasn’t until the Boeing 757 came out in the early 1980s that in addition to the captain and first officer there was also a flight engineer on board to monitor and maintain the aircraft’s systems. Technological advancements and improvements to standard operating procedures made the flight engineer role obsolete and it was soon adopted as the industry standard. But just a few short years before the flight engineer was replaced by computers, they were an irreplaceable part of the crew. Even earlier in commercial aviation history, in addition to a flight engineer, many long-haul flights also included a navigator and radio operator. But these positions were also made irrelevant thanks to advances in technology.