SEATTLE - Boeing says it is looking at the concept that airliners in the future might have only one pilot on board, but beyond that the company is saying little.
Elsewhere, the Operationally Speaking blog by respected British aviation journalist and pilot David Learmount of Flightglobal says that the European Union and other elements of the European aviation industry are studying the same possibility.
The concern is that the rapid expansion of the world's airlines is exceeding the ability to generate qualified pilots fast enough.
What may allow safe and reliable one pilot jets is cockpit technology and the concept that a "co-pilot" could be ground based, much like U.S. Air Force drone pilots sit in an office, but are in command of unmanned aerial vehicles over Afghanistan half a world away. The multi-lateral one-pilot project would leave at least one human being on board an airliner.
Initially, the concept is that cargo airlines could test the idea first, with passenger airlines coming later - maybe. Everything is contingent on reliable back-up systems if the sole pilot on board were to ever succumb to a medical emergency aloft.
"I can't conceive of anybody approving this," said air safety analyst and former airline pilot John Nance. "One person can never be completely reliable in terms of insulation against mental or physical breakdown."
"Whether or not we do so for much larger aircraft isn't a question of technology," said Todd Curtis, a former Boeing engineer and publisher of the website Airsafe.com, “as much as a question of acceptability of real or perceived risk."
Curtis says a lot of work would need to be done, particularly with issues integrating it with the air traffic control system.
But while some passengers at Sea-Tac Airport Thursday responded that they would never get onto a 737, much less a jumbo jet with just one pilot in the cockpit, others didn't seem shocked at the concept.
"I wouldn't have a concern with it. I think there's enough confidence in the technology,” said air passenger Amy Seward.