5 min read

Getting a good handle on risks in personal flying is difficult because we have no reliable information on exposure. The NTSB does an accurate job of tallying serious—especially fatal—accidents, so we know that number. But how many flying hours, or better yet trips, occur between those accidents? The exposure to risk, in other words. We just don’t have those data.

But even without knowing the number of flying hour exposure, there is one activity where risk does stand out—single-pilot flying in light jets. Nobody believes that the majority of hours flown in the Cessna CJ fleet, and the Embraer Phenom fleet, or the Beech Premier fleet, or the other single-pilot eligible jets is flown with only a single pilot. But the majority of accidents are single pilot. I can’t put numbers to it, but the higher number of single pilot accidents in the light jets is significant.

Now that the insurance market has firmed up, underwriters are taking note, too. In the past year or so it has become very, very expensive to insure a light jet flown by a single pilot, particularly an owner pilot. In some cases the single pilot may not be able to buy coverage at any price.

This is significant because the light jets provide our only glimpse into the risks of flying solo. In the piston fleet, and most of the light turboprops, single pilot flying is the norm. When that single pilot crashes we don’t have a history of crew flying experience to compare. We can guess that a crew would do better than a single pilot in a piston airplane, but we are only guessing. In the light jets we can see the difference in the accident count.


Single pilot operators of light jets like the CJ are finding it much harder to get insurance.

Why does the single pilot have higher risks in the light jets? Certainly not because they are more difficult to fly than a prop airplane. The light jet fleet has recent design and certification basis so flying qualities and systems design and automation are well done. Takeoff and approach speeds in the light jets are low, right in line with the twin turboprops or cabin class piston twins, so that’s not much of an issue. And even the most elderly avionics suites in the light jets are capable, and most have very sophisticated integrated systems that relieve a tremendous amount of pilot workload, so avionics capability isn’t an issue.

I believe there are two primary reasons crew flying is safer in any airplane, not just light jets.

The most important reason is what I call the “backseat driver factor.” If you have ever been through formalized simulator training, you know what I mean. When you’re in the right seat, everything is crystal clear. You instantly see the course and altitude deviations. You always notice a wrong switch flip. You identify the simulated emergency in seconds while the poor guy in the left seat sweats through memory items, or fumbles around in a checklist.

That’s why when discussing cockpit tasks the term pilot and copilot, or captain and first officer, have given way to pilot flying and pilot monitoring. It’s that monitoring role that allows us to spot trends of deviation from target airspeeds, altitudes and course guidance. When monitoring we have more time for a broad scan, and more time to identify what the pilot flying may be doing wrong.

Even the most routine tasks, such as dialing the new assigned altitude into the alerter, is backed up by having two sets of ears and eyes. It’s not infrequent that one pilot is sure he heard the controller say climb or descend to one altitude, while the other pilot heard something else. That raises a question when one probably would not have existed with a sole pilot.

The other reason I believe single pilot flying is riskier in the light jets—and any airplane, for that matter—is because it reflects the single pilot’s most basic attitude toward safety.

Your jet has redundancy in every system and engine. Every takeoff is planned for an engine to quit at the worst time while the jet climbs out at the necessary angle to clear all obstacles on the remaining engine. Even if all systems are lost the battery has shown that it can power essential systems for at least 30 minutes of night IFR to get to a runway. No checklist ends in forced landing.

But when we look at all of that capability and redundancy, and decide to fly by ourselves, we have introduced a risk factor that just isn’t there with a crew. We know a crew is safer, so why do we choose to fly solo? For convenience, that’s why.

Dragging along a second pilot is a hassle, particularly on personal trips. There is the cost of the other pilot, of course, but that’s just a component of inconvenience. Bottom line is that it’s just plain easier to fly by yourself.

To me the worst part of that flying solo decision is that it sets the stage to cut other corners. We’ve already decided to give up some safety of the second pilot so what else do we compromise on? Maybe a too short runway? Or maybe a contaminated runway? Or maybe a little over weight for conditions? Or maybe flying tired, or stretching fuel, or any of the hundreds of small but significant safety decisions we make on every flight. We can make any of those risky decisions based on convenience. The same reason we chose to fly by ourselves.

Believe me, I don’t want single pilot flying for personal reasons restricted. The insurance companies may not agree with me, but I think the FAA has the rules for solo pilot personal flying just right. But what I do want is for all of us who fly by ourselves to understand that we have assumed an additional risk. Is the trade of convenience for some safety worth it? That’s for each of us to decide. And now, at least in light jets, the underwriters are having a say.

Mac McClellan
39 replies
  1. Mike Keenum
    Mike Keenum says:

    Having a type in premier jet as well as f86 jet fighter. Both flown in low weather conditions I agree single pilot requires a significant amount of preplanning as well as SA.
    One plane had sophisticated avionics the other steam gauges. One had a great auto pilot the other had me.
    Not bragging but if I can do it it can be done.

    • Bruce McGregor
      Bruce McGregor says:

      Would a second pilot counter the bad decisions that Mac thinks are made by some single-pilot jet owners? If the owner is a highly successful, self-assured 55-year old entrepreneur and the co-pilot is a 23-year old new CFI desperate for turbine time, I doubt that the latter will challenge the former. There are too many 23-year new CFIs happy to take his place when he is fired for questioning the owner’s actions.

  2. Brad Simmons
    Brad Simmons says:

    Good article Mac. The PM can catch a lot of errors. Even going a step further, a check airmen or sim instructor sees an even better picture and captures mistakes before the crew notices. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter!

  3. George E Wilson
    George E Wilson says:

    I flew the Mitsubishi MU-2 for a corporation back in the early 70’s, and found that the biggest obstacle was fatigue. When you are the pilot, baggage handler, caterer, etc. even short trips can turn into a long day fast. I would recruit almost anyone to be the PM if available. Sometimes even the boss.

  4. Dr. Cyrill B. Wipfli
    Dr. Cyrill B. Wipfli says:

    I cannot follow his arguments. First he says jets are not more difficult to fly, which I can confirm. My Phenom 100 is way easier to fly than the Piper Cheyenne I was flying before, or the Piper JetProp which I was flying before. But then he says you compromise safety by flying alone, because two pair of eyes see more than one? Yes, of course that is true, but then his conclusion must be that all airplanes need to be flown with two pilots, especially the difficult ones, i.e. multi-engine piston aircraft with steam gauges. This makes no sense. I have over 800h flying alone in jets. No problem. Hand flying e.g. a sea plane or a helicopter I find much more difficult to fly than operate a fully automated jet. I never had any issues getting insurance. But I am from Europe, and I had to do a multi-crew training, although I am not certified to fly multi-crew, but EASA forced me to do it nevertheless with the argument the autopilot being my pilot flying, and I am only the pilot monitoring. Think about it…

  5. Jonathan Bailey
    Jonathan Bailey says:

    Having moved up as a singe-pilot operator from a Cirrus SR22T then Cessna 421C then to a CJ2 over the past 12 years, I can say flying the CJ2 by myself is by far the safest option. Sure things happen faster, but the degree of redundancy in every aspect of the airplane and operations (as you clearly point out) is far superior. Now a light jet can take you to much more dangerous situations (FL 450 single pilot always makes me nervous, I generally avoid it), and ATC expects a lot more from the operator in complex airspace, but that’s what we train for (and I have also learned that humility = safety, so I will tell ATC I am single pilot if I am getting overloaded, they are happy to scale their expectations). I will not be flying a piston in clouds over the Sierra’s ever again. Don’t even think about it in the CJ2. Most importantly, I have a well-defined set of personal mins for taking a second pilot: night into unfamiliar airspace, aircraft full of people, tired after a long day, bad wx, etc. There is no end of pilots young and old looking for time in a light jet. Bottom line is the same for any airplane: I never, ever, have to take off for any flight. The guy who crashed his new CJ4 full of people in a black hole takeoff in a snow storm over water at 11pm after being up since 6am did us pilots no favor – I am just going to come out and say he broke every rule in the book regarding good decision making, and we are all paying for it. He’s dead, and he is still a jerk.

  6. Bob
    Bob says:

    Hogwash….especially in todays fully automated jets. I have more than 3000hrs in a PC-12 and same in a CJ-3. The CJ panel is the best first officer I have ever flown with. I could see it if the pilot has been flying for a long day and is fatigued but if you’re well trained in good aircraft it is no more dangerous than a 172. I don’t believe a word of this article. If you don’t belong in the left seat without a FO then you just flat out do not belong in that seat at all. And for the record, if my employer was forced into hiring another pilot he would seriously consider getting rid of the airplane. So if you want to keep killing GA just keep it up….you’re achieving your goal…..by the way, my insurance agent and underwriter says ALL light single pilot ops accidents have the exact same accident stats as crew flown….until you throw in owner flown planes that fly a half dozen times a year. Dr Killers….so to speak. I know several owners that have no business flying their own airplane but because they’re professionals in other regions they have too much self confidence and it takes it’s toll. Get your facts straight Mac…you only presented half them. Professionally flown single pilot light jets ARE every bit as safe as crew flown. In fact I’ve had a couple FO’s that wanted my job and put in efforts to screw me up….that’s a fact Mac!

    • Dennis Crenshaw
      Dennis Crenshaw says:

      Bob, undoubtedly you are a very accomplished, experienced, and competent pilot. As Mac pointed out, we have redundancy for all major systems except the pilot. What bothers me is pilot incapacitation. Just about every year there is a story of an airline pilot who succumbs behind the yoke; and that occurs with a pilot possessing a Class I FAA medical with EKG. We all know that an FAA medical examination will find you fit to fly on the day you have your exam. On any subsequent day, all bets are off. Although my Dad possessed only a Third Class medical, he was an active pilot who succumbed to a massive heart attack which immediately put his lights out. He never knew what hit him. Thankfully he was sitting at his desk at his business instead of flying our 182. In my career as a corporate pilot, our company required a First Class medical exam once a year. The only difference I ever discerned between the Class I and Class III medical exams were the frequency of requirement and the EKG. Neither exam was a good predictor of incapacitation (heart attack, stroke) of an otherwise fit pilot. As an anecdotal point, I am reminded of a renowned athlete, Pete ‘Pistol Pete’ Maravich, one of the greatest basketball players of all time; and with whom, incidentally, I attended high school at Broughton HS in Raleigh, NC. Maravich dropped dead playing a game of pick-up basketball at age 40. He had an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. We just never know when the Grim Reaper will call our number. With 18,000 hours in the air, I’m glad I had a pilot in the adjacent seat for a good number of those hours who could land the plane.

      • John McDermon
        John McDermon says:

        If this is my fellow NASA coop Dennis Crenshaw I’m replying here to see if I can find you. Just trying to touch base with old associates from back in the NC State days…

        john at mcdermon dot com will find me.

  7. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    I will have to agree with Bob here. I am currently flying a Premier for a private company single pilot and have flown single pilot in CJ and CJ2. When you are single pilot you tend to focus more on what is at hand and what is ahead. The owner wanted me to take a copilot along when first flying the Premier since it was new to me. The co pilot was a qualified pilot with all the ratings and going into Midway on the arrival he put the wrong altitude in for the arrival, luckily I caught it. It became more of I had to watch everything he did plus what I had to do to keep things correct. It was harder doing all the baby sitting so needless to say we no longer use any copilot services. Our insurance with me as the pilot, 1.5 million hull and $30 million liability is $8900 a year. The Beechjet that I fly copilot in on occasion with same parameters is costing them about $12K a year. We have seen no increase in insurance cost whatsoever. Maybe single pilot is not for everyone. If you would of checked the stats from the AIN article on how single pilot is safer than a crew I will put here what they are
    Total Accidents 107, SP 40/Crew 67- CFIT 12, SP 2/Crew 12 – Runway Excursion on Ldg 38, SP 12/Crew 26 – Fatal Accidents 50, SP 20/Crew 30 – Accidents as per percent of total SP 37%/63% Hey Mac get your facts straight next time, right on Bob

  8. William Babis
    William Babis says:

    I too strongly disagree with Mac’s conclusions. I flew 32 years in crewed corporate jets of many types and now the last 8 in single pilot capable Citations and have found that that is the way to go. The vast majority of single pilot jets are flown single pilot so the fact that single pilot accidents are more numerous is expected not a cause for concern. With today’s automation, the single pilot is mostly the pilot monitoring. Do we need a pilot monitoring the pilot monitoring? Two pilots also double the chances of a pilot induced problem which is the most common type in aviation. Now, with Garmin’s and soon to be others auto-land systems, the last big bug-a-boo of pilot incapacitation accidents will become a thing of the past. It is a single pilot future Mac, even for the commercial carriers and the sooner the better.

  9. Dr. José Serra
    Dr. José Serra says:

    I totally agree with Dr. Cyrill Wipfli. I’m now also living in Europe for a while and all he described is absolutely right. Exactly the same has happened to me and I’m forced sometimes to fly jets all alone, sometimes for the sake of my patients. If you ask me if I feel more secure and comfortable with a co-pilot, of course my answer is yes. Nevertheless, flying alone isn’t a really issue and, as far as I’m concerned, safety has never been put in jeopardy.

  10. Gary Sackman
    Gary Sackman says:

    Interesting article, with a variety of opinions. My question is, if single pilots are involved in crashes involving twin-engine business jets, why isn’t the training requirements and final certification standards increased and enhanced to increase pilot proficiency and survivability? Is that too much to ask? I mean a pilot’s life and a million dollar plus aircraft are a stake. Some of you think Mac’s comments are an insult to your “professional” ability as a pilot. I realize that some of you have been flying for a long time, but what about the Bonanza pilot who wants to fly a jet for more capability and even for business matters? With the proper training and oversight, he probably can. Who’s crashing the jets anyway? No one discusses that. Accident statistics are just numbers. They don’t tell us anything about who was flying and why the pilot didn’t make it to his or her destination. The NTSB is just a reporting agency. Increase the proficiency standards and lives and aircraft will be saved. An Air Force F-16 pilot has to endure 3 years of intense training and flights to be given the keys to his or her jet. The Navy has the same standards or even more intense to be able to plant a F-18 Hornet on the deck of a carrier. Being a safe and proficient pilot should be our number one goal.

    • Bill
      Bill says:

      The FAA sets the minimum standards Gary, and the insurance industry tells you what you really need. As far as the FAA is concerned, there are two type ratings for jets capable of single-pilot operations. In the CJ’s case, there are CE-525 and CE-525S type ratings. The “S” designates that you have met the requirements and demonstrated the capability to command the aircraft as the sole pilot. If you don’t have the “S” on your ticket, you are required to have a second pilot in order to act as PIC. Obviously, the “S” lets you operate single or dual pilot.

      • Gary Sackman
        Gary Sackman says:

        Thanks Bill,
        I wasn’t aware of the regulations concerning single-pilot jets and the designations for the aircraft. I appreciate the feedback, not that I’m going to buy a Citation, but am glad that people like you have the information to pass on to others. Happy skies and pleasant weather.

  11. CCC
    CCC says:

    Now I’m scared! If this is a preview of where the insurance industry is headed, I better figure out how to install a right seat in my V-Witt. Yikes!

  12. Mike
    Mike says:

    Great article Mac, and spot on!
    Reminds me of the old saying, “Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD!”

  13. Stub
    Stub says:

    Boy did you step on a wasp nest or what? They are all ready to tell you how wrong you are but seem to miss your main points.
    I can’t speak from experience since I spent 40 years in cockpits with at least one other crew member, sometimes three others, but I do know that here are many times when we heard the controller say two different things. Had I been alone and heard the instruction wrong then it would have been up to the controller to catch my error before it was too late.
    I was fortunate to be on our airlines ASAP group and we read and listened to audio tapes of many instructions that the crew members swore were different. That hearing error alone is enough to make your point.
    Yes, there are times when another person in the cockpit complicates matters. Personalities and the persons initial training can be difficult to overcome, but those are the exception.
    I wonder about the disparity in the safety records of the two types of flying, commercial with crews vs. general aviation with single pilots. Yes, experience level may have something to do with it but is that the only reason why commercial aviation is safer? I think not.
    You also received a lot of negative feedback from superior pilots that evidently don’t make mistakes, where were the unfortunate ones who could not write you a reply?

      Mac MCCLELLAN says:

      Hi Stub,
      You’re right. Single pilot flying in turbine airplanes is controversial, and has been for a long time. What’s changed, and what I pointed out, is that the insurance underwriters have now altered their opinion. They don’t like single pilot jet flying much, and they will make airplane owners pay for that privilege. High limits–above maybe $5 million, which isn’t much–liability probably won’t be available to the single jet pilot at any price. Same for newer jets where the hull values are $8 to $10 million.
      The single pilot controversy goes back to what many believe is the first light jet, the original Lear Jet 23. The 23 was designed to be flown by a single pilot and was on track to be certified under the light airplane rules, CAR 3 at the time.
      Flight testing with a single pilot was going OK, according to the lore around Wichita from when I first started aviation writing in 1976. But then an FAA test pilot forgot to raise the flaps on a balked landing. That didn’t work out well, embarrassed the test pilot, so the FAA decreed the 23 would be a two crew airplane even though it was a small airplane–under 12,500 pounds for takeoff.
      By the time the Citation came along in the early 1970s the rules had changed and jets were to be certified in the transport category no matter the takeoff weight. Later Cessna convinced the FAA to certify the Citation I SP in the small airplane category of FAR 23. That allowed single pilot operation. In the intervening years several STCs have been issued to authorize single pilot flight in larger Citation models that weigh more than 12,500 for takeoff.
      When the CJ was developed Cessna certified it in the then new Commuter Category. That FAA created the concept of the pilot certificate, not the airplane certification, determining how many pilots are required in a Commuter Category jet. If you train and check for the type rating as a single pilot then you can fly the airplane by yourself. That still holds even though newer designs such as the CJ4 and Phenom 300 weigh around 18,000 pounds for takeoff.
      No thoughtful pilot would say that a single pilot is safer than a trained crew. The real question is single pilot flying safe enough. For many years–since the recession of 2008–the insurance market has been very “soft” with low premiums and underwriters competing for business. Now the insurance market has “firmed” and underwriters are taking a hard look at single pilot jet flying.
      It really doesn’t matter what we pilots think of the relative safety of single pilot jet flying, if you need high liability and hull limits it will cost you, if you can get coverage, for single pilot operation.
      And for those readers who note they have not seen an insurance increase I would say you’re both lucky, and early. This change in underwriter attitude is recent and you won’t see it until you go for renewal.
      Insurance underwriters and their actuaries move in a herd. And I understand that. Who wants to be the person that said it’s ok to cover the single pilot and then face a multi-million dollar loss when his cohorts refused the coverage. CYA is a human reaction we all share.
      Mac Mc

  14. John B
    John B says:

    Mac, I’m a private pilot that worked up the Cessna line, 182, 310, 414A, 441 then about 20 years ago a Citation 551 II/SP. I flew it single pilot for 700 hours over 7 years, now the initial type rating and first couple hours with a safety pilot were very busy. After that I found it much easier to fly than any of my previous airplanes. I’m flying 425 now and have been for the last 5 years, simpler and easier than my old 310! I acknowledge the risks, plan my trips to avoid get there I tis. Honestly if it weren’t for the cost difference, I’d buy another Citation tomorrow.

  15. Peter
    Peter says:

    I agree with Mac. Many have missed the important distinction that for safety to increase in a crew environment the crew must be trained as a crew.
    Simply having two pilots in the cockpit can be dangerous without proper training as a crew.

  16. Eric Kobren
    Eric Kobren says:

    Seems like the only evidence Mac sights for single jet pilot versus crew is that insurance companies have raised rates for owner operators. That is not exactly scientific, as insurance rates industrywide are on a cyclical upturn – not just for GA Or even aviation.

    Let’s get some ‘real’ data. Foreflight, Flightplan and flightaware should get together with FAA/NTSB and do a legitimate study. Let’s get the numbers. Not just on accidents and incidents, but on Wx/low IMC approaches, landing speeds, etc.

  17. B J Souter
    B J Souter says:

    I read with great interest all the comments from self opinionated experts in single pilot IFR. For many their logic escapes me and reminds me of the three monkeys,––– see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and to finish off, 90% of the soldiers in Vietnam died with their boots on, therefore boots are dangerous.

    When sounding off your pet arguments make certain your logic will withstand close scrutiny and be of value to those you are wishing to address with your comments.

    My comments arise from flying most GA types and some airline types for 20,000+ hours and not wishing to be accused of blowing my own trumpet would prefer this post to be anonomous.

  18. Bill Coyle
    Bill Coyle says:

    Couple of issues here…
    First, of course two up front is safer.
    Ok that is out if the way.

    Next the question then becomes is single pilot jet flying statistically more dangerous than single pilot turbo prop or single pilot piston flying?

    Now, the numbers should be available on the number of single crashes by various category of airplane. Get the numbers. It is irresponsible to put forth a hypothesis as gospel, absent the numbers. I find it hard to believe that these numbers don’t exist some where. You may have to dig, but if you are going to put something it as fact, then get the facts.

    On the topic of tightening insurance market…this in and if itself does not prove that single pilot jet ops are statistically more dangerous than single pilot ops in non-jet aircraft. The insurance companies have a lot more hull exposure on a jet than on a piston. Risk is the combination of the probability of failure and the cost of failure. So when the cost goes up, even if the probability is the same, the risk goes up.
    Takes a whole lot of piston single wrecks to equal the losses on one jet.

    Are single pilot jet ops more dangerous than other single pilot ops? Unknown absent doing the required space work. But do the work, don’t just declare a fact absent hard data.

  19. arthur wolk
    arthur wolk says:

    Dear Mac,
    You are correct but the insurance industry is not. The number of single pilot jet fatalities do not support the insurance industry’s reluctance to insure. But the anticipated cost that the Boeing 737 Max debacle caused where two pilots were in the cockpits reduced the market’s capacity to insure. Who bears that burden, guys like me who fly single pilot jets.
    So if you can’t buy insurance at any price or a very high price you can thank the guys at Boeing and the FAA who collaborated to put a dangerous airplane in the hands of pilots who were told nothing about the system that killed 346 persons.

  20. Akin
    Akin says:

    The real problem with this discussion is lack of valid statistics – even with the initial assertion that “nobody believes most jets in the fleet are flown single pilot but most accidents are single pilot.” When we make fundamental assumptions we run the risk of missing the true lessons.

    Take the Eclipse 500 and Cessna Mustang, jets which I assume (again, just an assumption but I believe a reasonable one) are typically flown single pilot by owner pilots and have a superb safety record. Would their record be any better with a crew? Perhaps the only fatal Eclipse accident could have been avoided since there was speculation of pilot incapacitation but no one really knows.

    Ultimately we may be discussing apples and oranges. Two pilots have advantages. But the single owner pilot has one huge advantage- he can look at the flight conditions, whether due to terrain, time of day, amount of of rest, weather and other adverse conditions, and cancel the flight without having to explain to his boss, flight department or paying passengers. He can then get on the next (two pilot) Southwest Airlines flight.

    Perhaps the real message should be to strive to find all ways to decrease the risks for the type of flying we do. That may be more realistic than requiring 2 pilots but hard numbers would be ideal.

  21. Tom
    Tom says:

    The cofounder of Flying J truckstops survived cancer. The founder threw him a party to celebrate then flew the cofounder and his wife home.
    Midway, the flight path became erratic, there were some garbled transmissions and the plane disappeared from radar.
    Speculation points toward incapacitation but no one can say for sure.
    Single-pilot is fine for solo flying but when there are soles-on-board, it might be nice to show some consideration to those soles. How hard is it to find low time pilots looking to log turbine time?
    A pilot’s job is not just to fly the plane but to handle emergencies. In the past few weeks I have read about three planes crashing because of minor distractions. Automation is wonderful until it fails, which it does. And autopilots are designed to disengage right when things get really hairy.

  22. Mark Wyant
    Mark Wyant says:

    Sorry Mac, just like you were DEAD WRONG about Mu2s (who now, after the SFAR requiring proper training are now the SAFEST turboprops in the sky), you are dead wrong about this. I flew 22 years for American under the crew system and have now, in my early retirement from flying the line, flown 10 years single pilot first in that “deadly” MU2 then in my Citation Mustang. With proper training and normal pilot vigilance and discipline in the cockpit there is NO difference in safety between single pilot and crewed. The gentleman above is correct…. most mistakes (especially with FNGs that will fly co pilot in a SP rated bird for the time) are self inflicted woundS from the inexperienced. I monitor the pilot flying (George then autopilot) during all my SP flying the last thing I need is to monitor the co pilot too.

  23. John Greenway
    John Greenway says:

    Greetings to all,
    Love your website, I have been flying for the past 44 years, 19 type conversions and 29000+ hours.
    Two years ago I bought a Pilatus PC12, which was my dream as far back as I can remember – I am never 100% confident flying it solo, its not the aircraft, its me.
    Please let me know if there is anyone else, who has this problem.
    I realize you are talking private jets, so please ignore this if its not appropriate here.
    Best Regards,
    John Greenway

  24. Pat
    Pat says:

    Great article and comments. I have been flying a Premier, Part 91 corporate, single pilot for the past 6 years and am also single pilot typed in the Phenom 300. I still remember the “eerie” feeling at FL450 in the 300 on my first flight in the airplane, single pilot with no pax, after completing sim training and type rating. Prior to that I flew 135 and 91 for 8 years in Beech Jets which, of course, require a crew of two. I am in 100% agreement that a professional crew operating as a well coordinated team is the best recipe for a safe and properly flown flight. The big question is whether or not the crew is truly performing well rehearsed CRM. In the “real world” of both the 135 and 91 I have flown with both highly experienced and “newbie” pilots that were excellent stick, rudder, and technology aviators but severely lacking in even basic CRM skills. They either lacked the proper training or in many instances simply chose to ignore the training that they did receive. Mac, I would wager that, with your level of experience, you have found yourself in that scenario more than once. In those instances, I firmly believe that a single pilot with proper training and organization is the safer bet. My experience has been that most 135 and 91 operations (probably with the exception of the big fractionals) don’t have the resources or motivation to provide the level of training and oversight/monitoring that is necessary to achieve that “great team” in the cockpit the way that the 121 operations do. One other thing worth mentioning is the confusion involved in bouncing back and forth between operating a single pilot jet single pilot one day and then as a crew the next. We have found it best that if another pilot is sitting up front that we can add to the safety of the flight by having him play the role of observer/sim instructor while allowing the pilot to stick to his familiar single pilot regimen.

      Mac MCCLELLAN says:

      Hi Pat,
      I agree. Two pilots are not necessarily a crew. And that’s why the FAA has FAR 61.55. That rule lists in significant detail what is required for a pilot to act as second-in-command. Among the requirements are making three takeoffs and landings in the type, and perhaps more importantly, to have received crew resource management training within the past 12 months.
      But 61.55 badly needs updating because it applies only to airplanes that require more than one pilot. The rule made sense before commuter category was invented and all jets and large airplanes required two crew.
      Now the light jets have no specific crew requirement. It depends on the type rating of the pilot flying. If the pilot flying has the single pilot type rating, then only one pilot is required.
      So legally a pilot with the single pilot rating could put any pilot with a multi and instrument rating in the right seat and call him or her second-in-command without meeting any of the 61.55 requirements.
      This was also an issue with FAR 61.58, the rule that requires annual training for pilots to fly an airplane that requires a type rating. That rule used to apply, as does 61.55, to airplanes that are type certified for more than one pilot. The FAA eventually realized that some pilots flying light jets with the single pilot type rating simply ignored 61.58 and did no training. It was legal. The rule was out of date.
      So a few years ago the FAA changed 61.58 so that it applies to any turbojet no matter its maximum takeoff weight as well as to airplanes certified for more than one pilot. That same change should happen to 61.55 so that when there is a second-in-command in a light jet that pilot has met the recent experience and training specified.
      The FARs are even more out of date and off target for the King Air 350 I fly. The airplane has a max takeoff weight of 15,000 pounds so is clearly a “large” airplane and thus requires a pilot type rating to fly it. But Beech type certified the King Air 350 for one pilot, unlike the light jets that are either one or two pilots depending on the type rating held by the pilots.
      So, the 350 is not a turbojet and is certified for a single pilot. That means I can totally ignore 61.58 recurrent training requirements. Any pilot who earned the 350 (actually called a BE300) type rating need not ever train in the airplane again. In fact, you can’t get a 61.58 signoff in the airplane. When I go to FlightSafety or SimuFlite for the full three or four day recurrent sim training, just like in the jets, I come out with a 61.56 endorsement. That’s the “flight review” rule, what we used to call the biennial. I could fly an hour in a Skyhawk with a CFI every two years, get the flight review signoff, and be totally legal to fly the King Air 350. Crazy.
      And, that’s why the insurance companies, not the FAA, set the real operating rules. The pilot warranty on the policy says something like “having completed annual training at an approved facility.” And that facility is approved by the underwriters.
      Maybe the FAA will catch up with the hash it has made of type ratings and recurrent training, but probably not in my lifetime.
      Mac Mc

  25. Enderson Rafael
    Enderson Rafael says:

    The classic “legal but not clever” thing. Specially in emergency, having someone else helps a lot. Not every environment makes sense for single pilot operations. Getting to a busy TMA single in a jet? Hum… too much, too quick. Most of the times you will do fine. But it takes only one bad time. Plus of course, the incapacitation factor.

    • Pat
      Pat says:

      Great link, Jeff, and an eye opener for me. Based upon those statistics it appears that the only true drawback to single pilot operation might be the rare pilot medical incapacitation situation. And, now, Garmin seems to have an answer for that. I will say that I truly enjoy flying single pilot in the flight levels. And, with the exceptionally high level of automation available in the SP jets that I fly it is essentially a management position in the left seat, with lots of highly skilled electronic employees. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, the single pilot will actually be the PM overseeing our totally self flying jets.

  26. Jim Van Vranken
    Jim Van Vranken says:

    Multi crew is the only way to go. Single pilot is asking for trouble. I am a retired Airline Pilot and my entire career has been ” If it ain’t a Boeing I ain’t Going” The safety factor is obvious. What about flight time and is there any restrictions concerning duty time.
    Those fortunate and successful folks who are able to own a private jet should never balk at hiring a second pilot.

  27. Tom Norton
    Tom Norton says:

    It seems if MAC would have done a quick google search, he would have found Jeff’s link to the AIN research of the statistics on single-pilot vs two-pilot flying in single pilot capable jets. The analysis examined 107 accidents from 1977 thru 2014, 40 (or 37 percent) of which were in jets piloted by a one-pilot crew versus 67 accidents (63 percent) in jets crewed by two pilots. The results do not support MAC’s comment of ” but the higher number of single pilot accidents in the light jets is significant”. Surprisingly, just the opposite MAC. I absolutely agree with MAC’s risk analysis of single pilot operations, but these risks can be mitigated with the right training and decision-making skills. I think the fact that single pilot operations are usually owner/operator ops that don’t need to be there as commercial two pilot ops do is a significant factor in the safety numbers. However as we learn more about why single pilots make mistakes, single pilot operations can potentially be safer than two pilots. The airlines made a transformation in the 80’s with crew resource management based on accident data and made significant improvements in safety. I am confident that improvements in single pilot resource management based on data will improve single pilot operations and hopefully the insurance industry will notice.


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