How do the airlines prepare for a situation where for some reason both PIC and SIC are incapacitated for the remainder of the flight?

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    $\begingroup$ Related question $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Jan 13, 2015 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ What happens? Unfortunately something close to Helios 522 $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2015 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ It's all explained at the end of this: youtube.com/watch?v=rQbj9uvYL8I $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2015 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky Amtrak (nearly all trains, actually) is a really bad example: Train systems are designed to deal with incapacitation using dead-man switches. The train will brake itself to a stop, and the block signaling system will indicate the track is occupied to prevent other trains from crashing into the one that's stopped. It's actually incredibly hard to crash two trains into each other. Implementing equivalent functionality for aircraft is much harder, because planes don't run on tracks… $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jan 13, 2015 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @SteliosAdamantidis To be fair, in that incident, the person didn't enter the cockpit until almost the exact same time that an engine flamed out from fuel starvation and the person was probably also still suffering, at least somewhat, from hypoxia. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Jan 17, 2015 at 1:17

2 Answers 2


How does Airbus prepare for a dual engine failure on the A320?

The short answer is this isn't something that's realistically planned for because the chance of a double-failure of the redundant systems in question (the two pilots) is pretty unlikely, and many of the conditions that could lead to it would result in a catastrophic loss of the aircraft anyway.

(The most notable exception to that would be a loss of pressurization at altitude, in which case hopefully at least one of the pilots can get their oxygen mask on to make the emergency descent.)

The ATC/Airline system as a whole can theoretically deal with this sort of a double failure in a few different ways. The most common is finding an off-duty employee of the airline who is riding non-revenue (dead-head, jumpseat, etc.) to fill the role of an incapacitated crew member.
This is of course predicated on whatever incapacitated the flight crew not affecting this other person.

If no qualified personnel are available it may be possible to get an experienced instructor on the radio to "talk the plane down", but that relies on having someone onboard who can (a) get access to the cockpit, and (b) at least figure out how to operate the radios to ask for help.
"Talk-Down Landings" have happened in small aircraft on several occasions, but as best I can determine this has never happened in a transport-category aircraft (airliner) outside of simulations and similar thought experiments.

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    $\begingroup$ In response to the second paragraph, there was Helios 522... $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2015 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 I'm sure that's not the only case of dual-pilot incapacitation either, but I bet you'd have a hard time naming 5 without really digging. It's an incredibly rare event, and solutions are pretty hard to make workable (anything that would incapacitate a 2-person crew would likely incapacitate a 3-person crew, so adding more people doesn't help, and solutions get more difficult to implement from there). $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jan 13, 2015 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7, an ability to remote-control the plane from the ground, like a drone, would do it. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AE Remote control of airliners will happen as soon as someone can implement it securely (it needs to be literally unhackable or someone will crash a plane into a building with it), reliably (at least as reliable as a second pilot), and cheaply (it has to cost less than a second pilot). In other words, "not any time soon". $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AE http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran–U.S._RQ-170_incident $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:51

In the highly unlikely event of this, a person who knows something about planes would get instructions from ATC of how to fly. A few years back there was a helios A320 which had a pressurisation issue. Everyone was un conscious and a member of the cabin crew attempted to land the plane. Thou, it was un successful. To sum up, ATC Would instruct someone how to fly and then auto land the plane, and this would most likely never happen.


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