Why are some small-ish jets (Embraer Phenom 300, Pilatus PC-24 for example) single-pilot certified? The pilot still has to fly+navigate+communicate. Why would a small jet be more manageable than a bigger jet? Or is it more the case that they would not kill as many people if things go belly up?


1 Answer 1


According to this blog:

Up until 1977, the FAA required all jets to be operated by two pilots. In ‘77, Cessna was given approval on a single-pilot variant of the Citation I, the Citation I-SP. The aircraft met the 12,500-pound maximum takeoff weight threshold for small aircraft, but that wasn’t the only single-pilot qualification. Cessna also had to convince the FAA that its pilot workload was low enough for one pilot to handle safely.

According to J. Mac McClellan with Flying Mag, in order for an aircraft to qualify for single-pilot certification in the 70s, “you had to have a boom microphone for hands-free communications-somewhat uncommon 30 years ago-and a fully functioning autopilot. There was also the quaint requirement for a transponder ident button to be mounted on the control wheel. In those days, we would ident on almost every controller handoff.”

One of the most important (and obvious) requirements for single-pilot certification of an aircraft is the fact that all gears and controls must be accessible from the left seat. The autopilot must be seamlessly integrated into the airplane’s navigation systems, and it must be functional for every flight operated by one pilot. The aircraft must have hands-free communication, as well. Aside from those concrete requirements, the rest is subjective.

After a series of test flights, the FAA’s test pilots must come to the conclusion that the aircraft is safe for a single pilot to fly. The design of the aircraft’s controls is one of the most important factors, as one pilot must be able to operate the throttle, the yoke, control wheel, and other flight controls easily from the left seat.

So, all of the aircraft's controls must be operable from the left seat, there must be hands-free communication, and an integrated autopilot.

Now, of course, there is also a single-pilot type pilot's certification, which a pilot can obtain to legally fly aircraft which meet all of the requirements above, yet are larger than the 12,500-pound maximum takeoff weight threshold.

  • $\begingroup$ Does the auto pilot need to be functional even under VFR and/or VMC operations? (Granted most jets will get into class A, and therefore rarely operate VFR, but our operating certificate for the Caravan only required the AP to be functional for IMC) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Don’t forget the requirement for a working autopilot to fly in RVSM airspace, which nearly all jet flights will do. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 14:47
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ When I was flying CRJs I had ready access to a simulator that I could use in visuals-only non-motion mode (bridge down, door open) when it was free, and used to spend a lot of time practicing flying it alone. Beyond having to reach for things, the flying itself wasn't an issue and I knew I'd have no problem flying alone if necessary (if it wasn't for the nosewheel steering, it would have been more convenient to fly from the right seat). The real issue is overall mental IFR workload and the lack of CRM benefits, which when done right, makes 2 heads much safer than 1. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 16:27
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @StephenS Air transport jets. There are jets for other purposes. Like VFR flights in a trainer like L-29. I doubt the plane can do RVSM in the original config. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty sure that there were single-seat fighter jets prior to 1977. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 2:25

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