Is it possible for one single person to fly, maneuver and land an Airbus A380 by him/herself?

  • $\begingroup$ Related questions about single pilot flying on regulations, feasibility, and history. $\endgroup$ – fooot Nov 20 '15 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ One of the reason there is at least 2 crew pilots is that if one become incapacited in flight, the other can bring the plane to a suitable airport (e.g. for medical assistance) $\endgroup$ – Manu H Nov 21 '15 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ If you needed two pilots to fly the plane, there would be four on board :P $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 21 '15 at 13:56

In general, it is perfectly possible for a single person to fly modern aircraft like A380. However, regulations require the presence of 2 pilots (PF and PNF). In other words, technically yes, legally no.

In long distance flights, the aircraft usually carries two sets of cockpit crew (4, each capable of flying the aircraft) as the flight hours may be more than the permitted flying hours.

FAA Advisory Circular 25.1523-1 deals with the minimum flight crew in transport category aircraft. According to Section 5 Certification Procedures, Subsection c, Testing (vi) Incapacitated Crew member,

Whenever the applicable operating rule requires a minimum flightcrew of at least two pilots, the certification program should include a demonstration of operations during the total incapacitation of a crewmember at any point in a given flight. It must be shown that the airplane can be operated safely and landed safely with the remaining crew at a planned or unplanned destination.

  • $\begingroup$ I could imagine there are regulations requiring an aircraft to be controllable by one person only (or carry at least three crew if not) - is this the case? $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Nov 20 '15 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @sanchises Yes. FAA AC requires that aircraft having flight crew of two should be controllable by one at any stage. $\endgroup$ – aeroalias Nov 20 '15 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed it was standard practice to carry 3 crew members when an aircraft required a minimum of 2 to (reasonably) operate $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Nov 21 '15 at 1:03
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't the A380 have a second officer/flight engineer? Thought it was a three-man crew $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Nov 21 '15 at 2:32
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    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW No, I don't think any modern Western airliner has a flight engineer (though some older ones in cargo service may still have one and I'm not sure about the Russian ones.) A380 only has 3-man or 4-man crew when using an augmented crew for long-haul flights like what UFO mentioned. For flights < 8 hours, they'd normally just have 2 crew. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 21 '15 at 17:31

Of course it is perfectly legal to fly an A380 with one pilot. You need to observe a few details, however.

For an explanation let me first say something about certification. When you compress all legal barriers to flight into one fact, it comes down to

  • Harm actively involved persons (like pilots) in less than one case per 100,000 (10$^5$) flight hours,
  • Harm passively involved persons (like passengers) in less than one case per 10,000,000 (10$^7$) flight hours, and
  • Harm not involved persons (like people on the ground) in less than one case per 1,000,000,000 (10$^9$) flight hours.

Now you can see where this is heading: If you don't take passengers onboard and fly the A380 as your recreational jet, you can do this with a private pilot license and all by yourself. All you need is a medical, the license and a type rating on the aircraft. And the aircraft must be airworthy, of course.

If, however, you carry others with you, you need to be 100 times more safe. This is accomplished by taking a spare pilot with you. In general, the second pilot shares the burden of flying, navigating and communicating with the first, but the aircraft has been designed to be flown by one pilot. Otherwise the second pilot would increase the risk of something going wrong - with two pilots you have twice the risk of one falling ill during the flight. Certification makes sure that one pilot by himself can fly and land the aircraft in an emergency.

Older designs needed as many as five people to fly the aircraft (first pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator), and in some not all controls could be reached from the pilot's seat. Steering those was more like sailing a ship: The pilot would command a thrust setting, and the flight engineer had to adjust the throttles (and mixture, cowl flaps, fuel valves ...). On the A380, however, all essential controls can be operated from either seat, and in total a crew of two is sufficient to comply with all regulations, including those for commercial operation.

  • $\begingroup$ I've heard of 3-person & 4-person flight decks but which were aircraft requiring all 5 of these positions you mentioned? Especially the radio operator. Just curious. $\endgroup$ – curious_cat Nov 21 '15 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ @curious_cat: The most modern one would be the Antonov An-70. Russian (and Ukrainian) designs never considered a shortage of manpower. The first ones were the Zeppelins, which had a Captain plus two people operating the controls, one for pitch and one for yaw. Plus one engine operator in each engine gondola. And a special radio operator, too. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Nov 21 '15 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ @sanchises: Read the question carefully. What is it about? Right, the possibility of flying an A380 solo. And that exists. What specifically would be silly about explaining how that works? $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Nov 21 '15 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ John Travolta flew an ex Quantas Boeing 707 as a private aircraft - so a commercial aircraft as a personal aircraft has been done $\endgroup$ – user23614 Nov 21 '15 at 16:53
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    $\begingroup$ You cannot legally fly any aircraft while contravening the aircraft flight manual. The AFM for the 380 says "minimum crew: two" $\endgroup$ – rbp Nov 21 '15 at 18:51

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