Pilots are trained to safely fly the aircraft in case of co-pilot incapacitation:

"A commercial aircraft can be landed with one pilot at the control and Delta pilots are fully trained to do so if the situation were to occur." (Delta representative)

FAA AC 25.1523-1 requires all aircraft to be capable of operation by one pilot only from either seat, so just one pilot can safely fly the aircraft - albeit under increased workload. (source)

So why would a pilot in such a situation elect to ask over the PA system "are there any non-revenue pilots on board, please ring your call button" and then land the plane together with this unknown person (a military pilot in this case) ?

This happened on United Airlines Flight 1637. Sure, if it turns out right (which it did in this case), it's certainly pleasant to have a helping hand. But there are all sort of things which could go wrong (“At the beginning, I interrupted her flow of operations, but we figured everything out extremely quickly."). Personally, I'd much rather prefer not being interrupted and distracted when I have to concentrate in this critical moment. Why take any risk at all when one pilot should be able to safely land alone?


1 Answer 1


There are risks either case. There are no hard rules for or against calling a pilot from the cabin for help; it is up to the pilot to evaluate the situation and select the best course of action.

The risk of landing solo is greatly increased workload, which increases the chances of human error. There are quite a few things to attend to when flying an airliner (compared to a small aircraft). It gets worse when you're in busy airspace.

The risk of asking someone to help is the uncertainly of whether this person will do more harm than good. There would be differences in flight experience and operation procedures. However, Crew Resource Management and handling ATC radio applies to pretty much all types of flying.

Historically there had been examples of either choice, and they both turned out fine.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It's not all that bad in the first place. In an IC situation, once the emergency is declared, ATC clears the decks for you and does whatever it has to do to accommodate you, so you end up with the luxury of a lot more time to set up an arrival by yourself than you would in a normal situation setting up and flying a STAR in a chain of aircraft and you have to get it all done go go go no screw ups. And the other thing is, jets are actually really easy to fly once you have adapted to their space/time environment, easier than a lot of light aircraft and turboprops. The demands are all mental. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 14, 2018 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @JohnK -- the workload wouldn't be all that bad, and ATC would simplify things as much as possible. Personally, if I had one of our pilots in that back, I'd have the flight attendants bring him up. But if it's not "one of us" then I wouldn't... what a pilot who doesn't know our procedures (or worse, our aircraft & FMC) can do, I don't need. He'd be a distraction more than a help. OTOH, if I also "had the fish" and thought I might be heading toward incapacitation as well, that's a whole different story. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 14, 2018 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ An unexpected emergency landing at an unfamiliar airport is stressful enough with two pilots; doing it alone would be much worse. There is a very good argument for having an extra set of eyes, ears and hands to take the easier things off your plate so you can focus on the hard ones. But trusting a random stranger to jump in mid-air wouldn't be an easy call. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Dec 14, 2018 at 5:43
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    $\begingroup$ It it was me I'd have someone brought up just to work the gear and flap levers for me, so I didn't have to reach over the centre console, but nothing else. If the airplane itself has nothing wrong with it, a landing on a runway is a landing on a runway. The biggest mental demand for NORMAL operations (nothing wrong with the plane itself) is mastering the FMS. If you're a whiz on the FMS (and you should be), and you have the autopilot to do 95% of the flying for you, it's not difficult, except to the extent that an inexperienced FO would be stressed and intimidated by being alone. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 14, 2018 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ I've heard people say that their airline SOP was to have a FA sit in the jumpseat just to help read of checklists. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 18, 2018 at 21:52

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