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Cathay confirms Airbus team-up on long-haul single pilot project

The Hong Kong carrier, looking at a 99.3% fall in passenger numbers compared with pre-pandemic figures, is in talks with the European plane-maker about cutting numbers in the cock-pits

Project Connect aims to certify Airbus's A350 jet for single-pilot operations. Photo: Reuters

The Hong Kong carrier, looking at a 99.3% fall in passenger numbers compared with pre-pandemic figures, is in talks with the European plane-maker about cutting numbers in the cock-pits

 

Cathay Pacific is said to be working with Airbus to introduce “reduced crew” long-haul flights with a sole pilot in the cockpit for much of the time, a move that would bring obvious savings to the ailing airline.

The programme, known within Airbus as Project Connect, aims to certify its A350 jet for single-pilot operations during high-altitude cruising, starting in 2025 on Cathay passenger flights, the sources said.

High hurdles remain on the path to international acceptance. Once cleared, longer flights would become possible with a pair of pilots alternating rest breaks, instead of the three or four currently needed to maintain at least two in the cockpit.

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That promises savings for airlines, amid uncertainty over the post-pandemic economics of intercontinental flying. But it is likely to encounter resistance from pilots already hit by mass layoffs, and safety concerns about aircraft automation.

Lufthansa has also worked on the single-pilot programme but currently has no plans to use it, a spokesman said.

Cathay Pacific Airways confirmed its involvement but said no decision had been made on eventual deployment.

“While we are engaging with Airbus in the development of the concept of reduced crew operations, we have not committed in any way to being the launch customer,” the Hong Kong carrier said.

EXTENSIVE TESTING

Commercial implementation would first require extensive testing, regulatory approval and pilot training with “absolutely no compromise on safety”, Cathay said.

“The appropriateness and effectiveness of any such rollout as well as (the) overall cost-benefit analysis (will) ultimately depend on how the pandemic plays out.”

It added: “Having said that, we will continue to engage with Airbus and to support development of the concept.”

Airbus has previously disclosed plans to add single-pilot capability to the A350, but the airlines’ participation had not been reported. Work has resumed after the Covid-19 crisis paused the programme, Chief Test Pilot Christophe Cail said.

PILOT VISAS

“We’ve proven over decades we can enhance safety by putting the latest technology in aircraft,” Cail said. “As for any design evolution, we are working with airlines.”

Cathay also said on Thursday that non-local pilots based in Hong Kong had been granted work permit extensions, two weeks after it launched a recruitment drive for local pilots and closed bases in Australia and New Zealand.

However, the airline said the government had rejected work permit renewals for non-local flight cabin crew based in Hong Kong, in a decision that will lead to an undisclosed number of job losses.

Pilots on the Boeing 747 freighter fleet and training captains will receive three-year extensions, those on the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 fleets will receive a one-year extension and those on the A330 fleet will be granted a six-month extension, the company said in a statement.

 

  • Reporting by Reuters

 

Read more:

Cathay preserving cash as uncertainty looms

Cathay Pacific to lay off 25% of staff

 

Sean OMeara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.

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