Why Ryanair Can’t Legally Eliminate Co-Pilots

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary has a knack for making headlines. As much as most people deplore Ryanair, some of O’Leary’s comments simply cannot be ignored.

The other day it was released that O’Leary made the following comment in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek magazine : “Really, you only need one pilot. Let’s take out the second pilot. Let the bloody computer fly it” and that should the single pilot become incapacitated a flight attendant trained to land the plane would step in and take over with O’Leary stating. “If the pilot has an emergency, he rings the bell, he calls her in. She could take over.

While O’Leary’s comments may set off a round of comments from aviation safety experts, airline pilots unions and news outlets around the world, what O’Leary has suggested simply cannot happen.

Lets ignore that training a flight attendant to land a plane, the hardest and most stressful part of flying, is dangerous and short sighted, and lets skip that pilots will be offended and passengers will be outraged that O’Leary wants Ryanair to shift to a single pilot model … and lets go right to the root of why what Michael O’Leary is proposing for Ryanair simply will not happen.

The Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA), a multi-national organization that oversees the common safety and regulatory standards for more than 40 nations in Europe, says that Ryanair cannot operate in this manner as per JAR-OPS Subpart N, 1.940(A)(1) & 1.940(A)(2) (Page 1-N-1 of the JAA Joint Aviation Requirements JAR-OPS 1, Commercial Air Transportation Aeroplanes)

JAR-OPS 1.940 Composition of Flight Crew

(a) An operator shall ensure that:

(1) The composition of the flight and the number of the flight crewmembers at designated crew stations are both compliance with, and no less than the minimum specified in, the Aeroplane Flight Manual (AFM)

(2) The flight crew includes additional flight crew members when required by the type of operation, and is not reduced below the number specified in the Operations Manual.

If one should read the Aeroplane Flight Manual (AFM) as written by Boeing for the Boeing 737-800, as Ryanair’s fleet is comprised entirely of 250 737-8AS aircraft, it states that this aircraft requires a crew of two pilots in the cockpit to fly the aircraft.

So for all of O’Leary’s shock value and his ability to get Ryanair in the headlines through his antics, this time there isn’t even any room for discussion of his antics. His concept for saving money would not be allowed by the JAA or Boeing.

I’d like to thank Courtney Miller, the founder of the AirplaneGeeks podcast (which by the way I was on this week), now with Bombardier Aerospace, for helping me find the proper JAR-OPS Regulations. Reading 251 pages of JAA regulatory documentation is not an easy task.

Happy Flying!



  1. They’d rather work on their hand luggage policy. Regardless of airline rating, boarding nowadays can be a pain w/ pax trying to stuff in their oversized bags in the overhead bins!

  2. I know all the rules are in place now, but do you think that someday aircraft will only take one pilot? Where computers can take off, fly and land aircraft and the pilot is just there for back up? I think it will probably happen someday and the rules will have to change.

    Every time Ryanair does something like this, I have such a hard time not talking about it. I love the crazy ideas, but I don’t want to fall for their tricks.


  3. David

    The rules may change some day, but the JAA says that its up to the AFM created by Boeing and Boeing isn’t going to change its position on minimum cockpit staffing for the 737 series aircraft. It may make changes in the future with advancements in aircraft, but they are not working to reengineer the 737NGs to be one pilot only.

    Happy Flying!


  4. The saddest part – if you do the math – is that it will only save about $5 per passenger per flight – or even less if the airline does as some do, which is have the co-pilot actually pay to have the “privilege” of flying.

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