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The Almighty Buck Transportation

Ryanair's CEO Suggests Eliminating Co-Pilots 553

Posted by timothy
from the outsource-to-ground-control dept.
postbigbang writes "Ryanair's miser-in-chief Michael O'Leary now suggests eliminating co-pilots as a way to save money. Will airliners be powered by drones, or is it actually viable to have just a single pilot on passenger planes?"
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Ryanair's CEO Suggests Eliminating Co-Pilots

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  • Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <giles DOT jones AT zen DOT co DOT uk> on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:23PM (#33489710)

    I'm all for cutting waste and luxuries we can do without. But when it comes to safety and personnel this is just going too far.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You sacrifice safety for expediency daily. Everyone does. It isn't black and white but a gradient. I do not think it is ridiculous to suggest the advance of modern technology has made co-pilots possibly unnecessarily redundant.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by feepness (543479)

        I do not think it is ridiculous to suggest the advance of modern technology has made co-pilots possibly unnecessarily redundant.

        I would gladly take the additional risk and save a few bucks.

        Flying is much safer than driving even if our monkey brains can't handle the concept of rare medium scale catastrophes vs common small scale ones.

        • Re:Waste (Score:5, Funny)

          by Forge (2456) <kevinforge.gmail@com> on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:49PM (#33489986) Homepage Journal
          How about dumping the flight attendants? On short flights and budget airlines, they hardly serve a purpose. (Unless you were going to follow the suggestion of lowering the educational requirements and removing the uniforms... Ohh... and adding some music, mood lighting and garters designed for holding cash.)
          • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

            by orzetto (545509) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:08PM (#33490164)

            You seem to think that flight attendants only serve the purpose of serving orange juice. They are trained for safety and security purposes, including crashes and hijacking. Have you ever noticed that they are never teens who want to make a few bucks, like those who wait tables at the local pub? Yet, if the companies could save money hiring teens, rest assured they would.

            • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

              by dintech (998802) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:50PM (#33490596)

              They are trained for safety and security purposes, including crashes and hijacking.

              Maybe so but on Ryanair, they are mostly trained to sell you stuff.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by RMH101 (636144)
                "Stewardesses" - the longest word that can be typed using just the left hand. Coincidence?
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by nitehawk214 (222219)

              You seem to think that flight attendants only serve the purpose of serving orange juice. They are trained for safety and security purposes, including crashes and hijacking. Have you ever noticed that they are never teens who want to make a few bucks, like those who wait tables at the local pub? Yet, if the companies could save money hiring teens, rest assured they would.

              And the co-pilot is not trained in safety procedures? Such as... being able to fly the aircraft in the event the pilot is incapacitated.

            • Re:Waste (Score:4, Insightful)

              by winwar (114053) on Monday September 06, 2010 @09:09PM (#33494156)

              "They are trained for safety and security purposes, including crashes and hijacking."

              They exist because of government regulations mandating certain staffing levels and minimal emergency abilities. Sorry, but anyone who wears high heals is not there for safety and security purposes. That apparel in direct opposition to effective safety and security measures is allowed to be worn indicates that their primary purpose lies elsewhere.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Eivind (15695)

              They may be (minimally) trained to perform those functions - but it's still cost-benefit. How often are those skills used ? How much of a difference does it make on the average ? For what costs ?

              All passenger-planes carry lifejackets, and has for decades. What is the cost, in space, fuel, production and maintenance ? Can you point me to a few cases where those lifejackets have saved lives ?

              Most of the time, planes don't fall down, so the lifejacket is useless. If a plane -does- fall down, but does so over l

          • Re:Waste (Score:4, Insightful)

            by pjt33 (739471) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:10PM (#33490176)

            If Ryanair scraps the flight attendants it loses the ability to try to sell stuff to a captive audience. That's not going to happen.

          • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

            by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:23PM (#33490296) Homepage

            On short flights and budget airlines, they hardly serve a purpose.

            ... unless something goes wrong. For instance, in the US Air LaGuardia Airport->Hudson River flight, the flight attendants were critical to evacuating the passengers safely. The pilots can't take care of the passengers in those sorts of situations, because they're busy trying to save the plane.

            Of course, I should point out that the second option is an excellent idea.

        • Re:Waste (Score:5, Interesting)

          by sakdoctor (1087155) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:50PM (#33489998) Homepage

          I would glady pay a few extra bucks to ... not be on the same flight as typical Ryanair customers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gandhi_2 (1108023)

          save a few bucks.

          You won't be saving anything. The loss of a $40k-75k/year co-pilot will save the company $40k-75k/year. Spread that out over all the passengers/year. You really think Ryan Air will pass those savings on to you in the form of a couple bucks? They won't.

          The coin-operated bathroom idea wasn't designed to pass savings on to the customer either.

        • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

          by X0563511 (793323) on Monday September 06, 2010 @02:27PM (#33491018) Homepage Journal

          I have a story.

          Once upon a time, the Captain had to tinkle. As he shut the cockpit door (which is required to be locked, btw) somehow the door slipped into Uber-Lockdown-Mode (aka guys with forks want in). There is a special trick to opening it like this, and it's only doable from inside. The FO didn't know it.

          The moral? He had to chill out with the rest of the passengers and flight crew for the duration while the FO took care of everything.

          Had there been only one crew, then it would have been interesting. They have autolanding and autobraking systems. Would you bet your life on them? (nothing being said of how they would be enabled remotely, not currently possible).

          Random acts of god/nature/whatever could also seek to relieve your flight of your captain as well. Having the second man not only distributes the workload, but provides some redundancy here. The workload division is a good thing too. Imagine the flight director malfunctioned. There goes your autopilot. Imagine trying to keep the plane pointed forward and on-speed while checking your map chart, dealing with ATC and the radios, and any number of other little things that come up.

      • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:47PM (#33489954) Journal
        How about Ryanair elimate their CEO position? That'll save some money too.

        I do not think it is ridiculous to suggest that an AI could replace their CEO.
        • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

          by hedwards (940851) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:50PM (#33490590)
          It's Ryanair, a lot of these suggestions are never intended to be put into service or even investigated. It's a way of getting free publicity for always looking for ways of cutting costs. And the press falls for it just about every time.
      • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:52PM (#33490024)

        I do not think it is ridiculous to suggest the advance of modern technology has made co-pilots possibly unnecessarily redundant.

        Co-pilots are there to handle things in case the pilot gets sick or something. If modern technology has made co-pilots unncesessary, it has made pilots unnecessary, period. If it hasn't made pilots redundant, then it has not made co-pilots redundant, either.

        Anyway, I think this is a really, really, really stupid idea. You are saving the $10,000-$100,000/year pilot salary and risking the $50-$150 million plane. Even from a corporate sociopath perspective, this is a really dumb idea.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sznupi (719324)

          No, the two of them are there mostly to control actions of each other, to notice possible mistakes. At a certain point of technology advance, this level of verification might go the way of flight mechanics, navigators and radio operators (eliminating them was also a stupid idea, right?)

          • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

            by AK Marc (707885) on Monday September 06, 2010 @02:51PM (#33491286)
            I disagree. The copilot is a redundant system for the pilot. Because they are there, they share the load. But the plane could operate 100% should one of them drop dead. That you have two means it makes sense to train them to double-check the other, but even if the majority of their time is spent on that task, it is irrelevant to their purpose. They are a single redundant pilot. If you remove one, then you can remove the other. If not, then you are changing the job of "pilot" from a redundant to nonredundant system. Such changes are clearly steps back in safety. It's not like the navigator (which has redundancy in its current system, computer primary and paper backup) or radio operator (moving duties around but not actually eliminating any redundancy). Increased automation let the pilots take over both primary and secondary control of those systems without impacting their ability to, well, pilot. But there are primary and backups for both. Eliminating the copilot will eliminate the redundancy in the last human operator. Until there's no need for a pilot, there will be the need for a copilot in a redundant system.
        • Re:Waste (Score:4, Insightful)

          by jeremyp (130771) on Monday September 06, 2010 @02:14PM (#33490868) Homepage Journal

          Actually, I don't think that's correct. I think, in an emergency, two pilots probably improve the odds dramatically over one.

          If there is an emergency, with two pilots, one can concentrate on keeping the plane in the air while the other deals with how they are going to get themselves safely on the ground.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by houghi (78078)

          Co-pilots are there to handle things in case the pilot gets sick or something.

          So how often does that happen? One could argue for the same reason that a second co-pilot would be good, in case something happens with both of them.

          The chance of a need for that will be extremely limited. So how high are the chances for the actual need of a co-pilot? Are numbers available? Real numbers, not incidental evidence. And are there situations where having two pilots caused issues? Just to be sure to have no false positi

      • Re:Waste (Score:5, Informative)

        by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:54PM (#33490042)
        You're gambling that a pilot, traveling without a co-pilot, never gets sick, injured or dies [foxnews.com] while flying the plane. I'm sure that's just an isolated incidence [google.com] ... or maybe not.
      • Re:Waste (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:58PM (#33490084) Journal

        Until the pilot has a heart attack and dies, which happens periodically. There was one such case just last June on Continental Airlines, and another in February of 2008.... So yeah, if you're willing to increase the number of large airplane crashes by almost one per year, go ahead and cut out the copilots.

        The idea of training a flight attendant to perform a landing in the case of a pilot's death means that you would be trusting a minimally trained "pilot" to land a large jet with several hundred people aboard about once per year. That's absolute insanity. That's not cost cutting. It's homicide.

        I know I would stop flying IMMEDIATELY on any airline that even CONSIDERED doing that (which means at this point, I'd base jump off the Empire State Building before I'd fly Ryanair, BTW). If your airline's management is stupid enough to consider that, you almost certainly are cutting corners dangerously in other areas, e.g. maintenance. After all, by that same standard, you don't *need* to inspect all those things with such regularity. Most of the time, the parts won't fail even after twice that time....

        Now if he had said that they were considering putting in remote control systems so that a backup pilot on the ground could take over electronically in the event that the pilot became incapacitated, that might be palatable. There are ways for technology to reduce the need for a copilot in this day of fly-by-wire aircraft. However, what this guy is suggesting puts him beyond bonkers straight to psychopathic, homicidal maniac. Their CEO shouldn't be leading an airline. He should be locked up in a padded room somewhere so that he can't harm himself or others.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by amorsen (7485)

          The idea of training a flight attendant to perform a landing in the case of a pilot's death means that you would be trusting a minimally trained "pilot" to land a large jet with several hundred people aboard about once per year. That's absolute insanity. That's not cost cutting. It's homicide.

          You're assuming a manual landing. It should be reasonably easy to train a flight attendant to program an autopilot to land.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dgatwood (11270)

            In aircraft that are equipped for CAT III, sure, though many are not. Either way, it still would make me really uncomfortable to know that one flight per year was being flown by someone who could not take over adequately if autoland kicks out for any reason.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by sznupi (719324)

              So how uncomfortable are you with the knowledge that most crashes are due to human error (and large of those - pilot error) / why apparently it doesn't stop you from flying?

      • Re:Waste (Score:5, Informative)

        by pehrs (690959) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:02PM (#33490116)

        Well, it is ridiculous.

        In the cockpit you have two pilots for a reason. One is PF (Pilot Flying). One is PNF (Pilot Not Flying). The PF is responsible for actually flying the plane. The PNF is responsible for all the checks and offloading to ensure the pilot can take care of the plane. He reads the checklists, handles communication and everything else. And even with this set of checks one of the most common causes of accidents is "Pilot Error". Removing the checking function of the PNF in that situation is beyond insane. It would take us back 30 years in aircraft security and completely ignores the whole CRM (Cockpit Resource Management) concept. You should think of removing the CNF as making a law that all drivers on the road must speak in their mobile phone and fiddle with the radio while driving.

        Also, better technology has not made airplanes easier to fly. It has made them safer and more powerful, but not easier. It's like claiming that a modern nuclear powerplant doesn't need any engineers because it's all automatic... Planes are large and very complex machines. More technology means more failure modes.

        • Re:Waste (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:15PM (#33490216)

          That's exactly right. People don't understand what a co-pilot is. No airline refers to the second cockpit member as a co-pilot. They are both pilots. One is a Captain and the other is a First Officer--the sole difference being one of seniority, not training or skill. They two typically take turns flying every other leg, and both are required to balance the workload. No transport airplane will be certified for single-pilot operation unless it has been specifically designed for one pilot, and none have. There are good reasons to have two humans up there--to back each other up, and use their combined judgement to handle situations when things are not normal. It's not a matter of technology replacing the pilot's mechanical skills. A computer would have to replace the pilot's mind, and we're not at that point yet. Certainly it's crazy for any Windows IT person to suggest that technology is reliable enough to hold the lives of hundreds in its silicon hands. They of all people should know better.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      And they are also going to charge £1 for a visit to the loo.

      So what happens when you run out of coins? Wet your seat? That would put an end to the fee fairly soon.

    • by Knave75 (894961)
      Frankly, I believe that computers make fewer mistakes than humans, so I would in fact prefer a plane with a single (or no) human pilots.

      Before I get hit with a straw man, I am in no way saying that computers are infallible. Of course they are programmed by humans, and mistakes will be made. I am just saying that the error rate for computers is probably less than that for humans. We kinda suck at not making mistakes.
      • Old joke (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anne Honime (828246) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:41PM (#33489902)

        Frankly, I believe that computers make fewer mistakes than humans, so I would in fact prefer a plane with a single (or no) human pilots.

        Reminds me :

        Q: What is the ideal cockpit crew?
        A: A pilot and a dog...the pilot is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to bite the pilot in case he tries to touch anything.

      • Re:Waste (Score:4, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:52PM (#33490618)

        "Frankly, I believe that computers make fewer mistakes than humans, so I would in fact prefer a plane with a single (or no) human pilots."

        I've got 26 years as a tactical aircraft avionics tech, engine weenie, and crew chief, from manual control (Bronco) to hydraulically-boosted and electronically supplemented flight controls (Phantom) to excellent fly-by-wire flight controls (F-16 A/B/C/D) and in my experienced opinion...
        FUCK THAT NONSENSE! We aren't there yet for passenger applications. UAVs and drones are still early in their development, let alone autonomous systems.

        Pilots fuck up, systems fuck up, and one can compensate for the other which is a good reason to have both.

    • I actually say that IT types use this as an opportunity. I think we have the tech to completely replace a co-pilot with AI. After that has been in place for a while and working well we could replace the pilot too. Really, flying a plane isn't terribly complicated, I hear landing requires skill but not smarts. And AI has unlimited skill. Emergency decisions could be controlled from the ground.

      You'd gain valuable cockpit space for first FIRST class seats that get wall to wall windows which would help for co
      • Emergency decisions could be controlled from the ground.

        Because there'd never be any sort of interference between the plane and the ground...

        Hijack this, bitch.

        So now it can be hijacked with a cell phone, instead of box cutters. And now the TSA will start banning personal electronics on planes, making air travel even less pleasant, even though it would also be possible to do the same thing from the ground.

        Thanks for that.

    • Re:Waste (Score:5, Interesting)

      by paeanblack (191171) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:47PM (#33489964)

      I'm all for cutting waste and luxuries we can do without. But when it comes to safety and personnel this is just going too far.

      The exact same thing was said when the railroad industry began to eliminate brakemen.

      They too were the "eyes and ears" on the train, served critical safety functions, and acted as a backup engineer. Better technology came along, and they were simply no longer needed. The new air brakes failed less often than the people did. Trains were safer with an automated system being responsible for a task formerly done by a human.

      The exact same thing was said in 1911 when someone entered a car into the Indy 500 that carried only one person. It was unsafe; it endangered other drivers. The new technology this time was a rear-view mirror. Now this dangerous technological replacement for a live human being is a standard feature on all cars.

      Also in 1911 came the development of automatic helm control for ships. The technology ended up faster, more accurate, and more reliable than a trained, experienced career helmsman. Guess what the major complaint was? Yeah...it was "unsafe"

      • Re:Waste (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:37PM (#33490446) Journal

        trains... cars... boats...

        Q. What do these things have in common?
        A. They don't go 500+ mph or fly.

        Right now, our ground-side air traffic control systems are still a relic of the 50s.
        Until that changes, there is a limit on how much technology you can put in the plane to compensate.

        BTW - Those guys at the Indy 500 rely heavily on their track-side spotters to tell them if they can make a move or not.
        Not only that, they communicate through the spotters to pass messages to other drivers on the track.
        Just because he isn't in the car, doesn't mean he isn't co-piloting.

      • You have heard of 3D? Well, trains and ships and automibiles lack it. They travel on a flat service. Planes don't.

        What happens to a train whose engines stops Nothing.

        What happens to a ship whose engines stop? Nothing.

        What happens to a car whose engines stop? Nothing.

        What happens to a plane whose engines stops? It crashes into the ground.

        The difference and one that should really be obvious is that with ground based vehicles, if something goes wrong, you got more time and the only safety procedure that m

        • Re:The 3rd dimension (Score:4, Informative)

          by horza (87255) on Monday September 06, 2010 @03:13PM (#33491558) Homepage

          You have heard of 3D? Well, trains and ships and automibiles lack it. They travel on a flat service. Planes don't.

          Exactly, lacking that third dimension makes it far more dangerous. You have both the introduced weak points of connecting to the 2D surface (think tyre blow-outs, trains derailing, etc) and also critical reliance on brakes. With planes 3D removes these weak spots and you have an extra dimension in which to take evasive action.

          What happens to a ship whose engines stop? Nothing.

          Not true. In the case of a large oil tanker you end up with a massive environmental disaster, as we've seen numerous times.

          What happens to a car whose engines stop? Nothing.

          Sure, only 11M annual road accidents in the US alone. Really safe mode of transport.

          What happens to a plane whose engines stops? It crashes into the ground.

          Or you could just glide down and land. Apparently even possible to land on a river I hear.

          Even terrorists know this. That is why ships and trains have rarely been hijacked. There is no urgency.

          The shipping around Somalia will be pleased that you've managed to alter reality to make them more safe.

          Wonder how come you forgot to mention the REAL reason brake men could be removed, the simply switch that in the event of a disaster happening to the driver, the train coming to an automatic stop. Wonder why you left this device out? Because it would ruin your entire idiotic rant of "X works in situation Y, so it will work in situation Z"?

          That doesn't always [wikipedia.org] work [wikipedia.org]. But aren't you arguing againt yourself? The real reason you can lose the co-pilot is that the plane can land itself in an emergency.

          And oh gosh, that is OFTEN the cause of SMALL aircrafti with SINGLE pilots crashing. That is why if you fly passengers, you need two pilots.

          By your reasoning, that is why cars, trains, subway systems, trams, boats and every other vehicle needs two drivers/pilots.

          Phillip.

  • Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:25PM (#33489722)
    There are good reasons for having a co-pilot. What he's really saying is that pilots salaries are (in his opinion) excessive, and he thinks he sees a cheap way out by eliminating the "unnecessary" backup pilot.

    Which will work great until that pilot has a coronary at 35,000 feet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      Providing he and other members of the board and senior management are forced to be on every aircraft that has only one pilot, you know, to show that they stand behind what they say, I say give it a go.

      • Providing he and other members of the board and senior management are forced to be on every aircraft that has only one pilot, you know, to show that they stand behind what they say, I say give it a go.

        I dunno ... never underestimate the power of human stupidity, particularly when there's money involved. I mean, this particular board has tolerated a fruitcake as CEO for some time now.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Neon Aardvark (967388)

          I dunno ... never underestimate the power of human stupidity, particularly when there's money involved. I mean, this particular board has tolerated a fruitcake as CEO for some time now.

          Boards don't generally view CEOs who generate huge and increasing profits, and vast quantities of free publicity, as fruitcakes.

    • by jdmonin (124516) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:07PM (#33490160) Homepage

      There's an article, by a commercial pilot, about the myths of jets able to "fly themselves" at http://www.salon.com/technology/ask_the_pilot/2009/11/19/askthepilot342 [salon.com] . You have to scroll down a little to get to the meat of it, but there's plenty up there to keep 2 people busy.

      He also talks about how busy things can get in an earlier article http://www.salon.com/technology/ask_the_pilot/2007/08/31/askthepilot243/index.html [salon.com] .

  • by rve (4436) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:25PM (#33489724)

    Ryanair has been coming up with more revolutionary ways to save money:

    Let stewardesses land planes:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/7981643/Ryanair-boss-says-air-stewardesses-should-be-allowed-to-land-planes-in-an-emergency.html [telegraph.co.uk]

    Let passengers stand:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/5753477/Ryanair-to-make-passengers-stand.html [telegraph.co.uk]

  • I suggest sending them to sleep or maybe browsing Facebook...
    • I suggest sending them to sleep or maybe browsing Facebook...

      Well, in the U.S., FAA rules prevent pilots from taking naps, I understand. Not sure about Facebook though.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:25PM (#33489740)
    Should an emergency arise, the CEO could ring a bell and a specially trained board member could come in and take over running the company.
    • Should an emergency arise, the CEO could ring a bell and a specially trained board member could come in and take over running the company.

      Yes. And that board member will have a large red, rubber nose and have huge, goofy shoes and will be named "Bozo."

  • So if the pilot has a aneurism mid-way across the Atlantic, one of the flight attendants is going to take over? I know auto-pilots have come a long way over the years, but I'd rather have a qualified, competent, human backup at the ready. This guy doesn't sound like he has the mental prowess to run a Burger King. Which genius decided he should be CEO?
  • How About... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:26PM (#33489754) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, because getting rid of the back-up pilot is such a wonderful idea. How about I eliminate Ryanair as an airline I'll travel on?

  • by EWAdams (953502) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:27PM (#33489762) Homepage

    This jerk gets publicity for his cheap-ass airline by making outrageous threats, most of which are unlawful in any case. Not long ago it was pay toilets in the plane. Then it was standing room only, no seats, with harnesses to hold you in place. It's just a way of getting print space in newspapers that emphasizes how low his fares are.

    He is, in short, a troll. Buy some advertising and STFU.

    • He is, in short, a troll.

      I think you're right. He'd fit right in here on Slashdot: of course, he'd either get "+5 Funny" or "-5: Troll." Hard to imagine anyone taking him seriously.

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Perhaps if they need to cut required costs, then they have no business being in business? Surely it's not impossible to make a no-frills airline actually work out. Oh wait it is because if you're too competitive no airports will let you land there because they don't want you competing with their airlines.

  • How about just offering free flights for pilots, waitresses, and doctors? Kind of like the self-checkout at the grocery store...

  • Nothing against flight attendants but do we really need more than one? Stop serving drinks and get us from point A to point B safely. That's all we care about.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cptdondo (59460)

      You've never seen a passenger throw a hissy fit, have you? Or start screaming? The FAs may be useless until the shit hits the fan, and then there aren't enough of them. They aren't there to serve drinks; they are there to keep the passengers in line.

      I have 2 pilots in my family; it's hard, stressful work that takes a toll on their families and their own health.

      Eliminating more staff is not the way to go. Do you really want the cheapest, least experienced person at the helm and in the cabin? That's fine

  • by lobiusmoop (305328) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:36PM (#33489864) Homepage

    This reminds me of this segment [youtube.com] of Michael Moore's 'Capitalism: A Love Story', where he discusses airline pilots that are so poorly paid that they are on food stamps and having to work second jobs to make ends meet (with potentially disastrous consequences).

    • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:04PM (#33490138)

      Frontline: Flying Cheap: "A hard look at the risks that may go with cheap flying."
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/flyingcheap/ [pbs.org]

      When you start off flying commercial, almost every starts at a regional airline. You may be buying a United or Continental ticket, but it's a seperate airline that codeshares with the big boys. Those co-pilots on those aircraft are making between $18K-28K/year, are only paid from when the cabin door closes until it opens at the destination, and have their schedules dicked with by the airline's scheduling/routing department so that, while technically compliant with labor laws, they're extremely exhausting and some even nap in the cabin. Keep this in mind the next time you shop for your airline ticket based on price.

      • Keep this in mind the next time you shop for your airline ticket based on price.

        Yep. People love to blame 'evil' CEO's and 'greedy' businesses for cutting corners - but the root cause of their seemingly 'evil' and 'greedy' practices is the Wal-Mart mentality.

        And it's the same over on Wall Street - Wall Street isn't some monolithic organism that gorges on increased profits. Wall Street is machine for appeasing the people who insist their retirement accounts have a high enough yield so they can wait

  • God is my co-pilot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hex0D (1890162) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:36PM (#33489866)
    ...and he was declared dead before powered flight even existed.
  • Seriously (Score:4, Informative)

    by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:37PM (#33489876)

    I'm all for leaning on technology, but this just seems like profiteering

    Just in case you weren't paying attention, there has been a big move in the US to increase regulations on commuter carriers who have driven down pilot pay and driven up pilot hours in order to increase profits. A lack of pilot training and an over reliance of the autopilot was seen as a direct cause of the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2010-07-30-aviation-safety_N.htm [usatoday.com]

    IMHO, this makes ryanair's request unreasonable

  • Not feasible today. Sufficiently large or complex aircraft are designed to be crew operated. You can not just leave the copilot seat empty.
    • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:44PM (#33489932)

      Part of the job of a pilot is to keep an eye on all the automation. The problem is that its very difficult to stay alert for long periods of time waiting for a very rare failure. Two pilots tend to keep each other awake and alert. (Yes I know about the plane the overflew its destination while the 2 pilots were looking at something on a laptop - but that is such a rare event that it made the national news).

      Humans and automation tend to fail in very different ways - humans are much better at dealing with unexpected situations, automation is much better at doing repetitive jobs without mistakes.

      Having a second pilot probably adds about $1/hour per passenger seat (including all overhead etc) - at the moment I think its still a good deal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by paeanblack (191171)

        Yes I know about the plane the overflew its destination while the 2 pilots were looking at something on a laptop through their eyelids

        FTFY.

  • by Aquitaine (102097) <sam@ia m s am.org> on Monday September 06, 2010 @12:52PM (#33490020) Homepage

    Disclaimer: IANACP (I Am Not a Commercial Pilot) but IAAP (I Am A Pilot)

    There are probably some flights, in some aircraft, where you could train a flight crew member to do enough to relieve the captain of enough tasks so that (s)he can concentrate on landing the plane. In some cases it isn't that any one part of getting an aircraft from A to B is difficult so much as it's the sheer number of tasks at hand -- between monitoring a zillion instruments and talking to approach, then the tower, then the ground -- that you just need a second person there. Even in a small plane, there are times when having a co-pilot just handle the radio makes things a lot easier.

    The actual mechanics of flying an airplane are not especially difficult, but knowing how to handle bad or emergency conditions while keeping cool is. It's easy to get overwhelmed just by the quantity of things you have to keep track of. It's plausible that, on shorter, commuter flights, a computer could do enough of those things so that one person can reasonably fly a plane.

    The problem is that, while most pilots are pretty safety-conscious, there is such a huge supply of them that there will always be people willing to fly for these companies under less than ideal conditions. Particularly with the minimum number of hours (in the US, anyway) jumping to 1500 (from something like 200-250, which was indeed too low), you're going to see a lot of young guys with a lot of debt from flight school (where commercial loans are on the order of 12-18% interest) who will take any job just to pay the bills. They just don't get paid very well these days, and airline margins are tiny as it is.

  • Passengers (Score:4, Funny)

    by SleepyHappyDoc (813919) on Monday September 06, 2010 @01:34PM (#33490406)

    They should get rid of all the passengers. Think about it....they wouldn't have to pay for meals, they could fire all the flight attendants and save that salary money, the seats on the planes wouldn't be needed anymore. They'd even save on fuel, since the planes would be so much lighter without all those people on board.

  • by FranTaylor (164577) on Monday September 06, 2010 @02:04PM (#33490754)

    RyanAir's co-pilots suggest eliminating the CEO position as a way to cut costs.

    After all, when cutting costs, start first with things that don't contribute directly to the bottom line, and don't affect safety...

  • by Hans Lehmann (571625) on Monday September 06, 2010 @02:34PM (#33491110)
    When Michael O'Leary starts flying on scheduled, commercial flights with no co-pilot, I'll start doing the same. In the meantime, I'll be sure to avoid Ryanair at all costs, since they sure don't seem to be very concerned with my well being.
  • by michelcolman (1208008) on Monday September 06, 2010 @03:46PM (#33491854)
    Can you teach a flight attendant to land a plane if the captain has a heart attack? Sure. If he/she knows how to program the autopilot, and gets a lot of help from the ground, I don't see why not. Maybe not at the intended destination (not all airports have the necessary equipment for automatic landings), but usually there will be a big airport nearby where the automatic landing can be made. You'll have to train those flight attendants very regularly, of course, because they'll forget how to do it after a month or two (anyone would, without practice, it's a quite a bit more difficult and less intuitive than programming a GPS), but it would be possible.

    However, that's not really the point. People seem to think that all a pilot has to do, is fly the airplane (or even easier, make the autopilot fly the airplane) pretty much like a bus driver. If they saw us "work" during cruise flight, they would probably see this suspicion confirmed. However, as a copilot, I quite frequently have to point out minor and sometimes even major mistakes of the captain, that might have resulted in serious incidents. And the same happens in the other direction when I'm flying (both pilots fly just as often). Misunderstood instructions from air traffic control, finger trouble with the autopilot, missing a level off altitude on a procedure, etc... Lots of accidents are blamed on pilot error, imagine what that rate would be if there wasn't a second pilot to catch the first one's mistakes. Times ten would be a conservative estimate.

    And then we're just talking about normal operations. We get simulator training every six months, and you should see how high the workload is then. Engine failures, electrical problems, bad weather, lots of checklists to do, judging the situation and the best course of action while one pilot has to manually fly a crippled airplane with a third of the instruments still working... there's absolutely no way you could let just one pilot do this kind of thing safely.

    O'Leary is not that stupid. He's just getting free publicity, spreading the word how relentlessly he's cutting costs to keep ticket prices low. And they're not even that low if you miss out on the few promotional tickets that are advertised everywhere. The rest of the passengers often end up spending more than on a real airline.
  • by gordguide (307383) on Monday September 06, 2010 @03:54PM (#33491918)

    What he's really proposing is increasing the size of the aircraft where it's legal to fly with one pilot. Currently you need a co-pilot if there are 12 or more passengers (flight crew are considered passengers).
    Many commercial carriers who do fly the smaller aircraft, mostly to remote areas, have a co-pilot on board anyway; it's how you train your pilots.
    One would assume Ryanair simply want to poach pilots with experience from other airlines; otherwise the only other conclusion is they are fine with inexperienced pilots as well.

    I won't go into how Ryanair fits compared to it's competitors or how a flight on their craft is different from other carriers, but broadly speaking I wouldn't trust any proposal from Ryanair on anything.

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