A presidential panel conlcuded yesterday that the new generation of commercial jet airliners to be introduced into service over the next decade can be flown safely by two-member cockpit crews.
The task force's report may help settle a longstanding controversy on the size of the cockpit crew of the new aircraft, which are scheduled to replace many of the current models being flown by the airlines, generally with three-person cockpits.
"Adding a third crew member would not be justified in the interest of safety," according to the unanimous three-member task force headed by John L. McLucas, former administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and secretary of the Air Force.
The task force reached the same conclusion about the McDonnell Douglas DC9-80. The aircraft, already in operation, can be flown safely with a two-person crew, and adding a third crew member is not justified on safety grounds, the panel said.
The aircraft manufacturers have argued that advanced technology in the cockpit makes a third person unnecessary, an argument that found a receptive audience among the financially pressed airlines. On the other hand, the pilots and the flight engineers have argued generally that safety could be impared with two crew members in the cockpit instead of three
To avert a strike threatened by the 33,000-member Air Line Pilots Association in March, the White House agreed to set up the panel of technical and safety experts to make recommendations on the use of two-member crews in the proposed Boeing 757 and 767 and other new-generation commercial jets, and to review an August 1980 FAA decision to certify the McDonnell Douglas DC9-80 aircraft for operation by a crew of two, a decision the ALPA had challenged in court.
ALPA President John J. O'Donnell said yesterday that he intends to recommend to the union's executive board that it go along with the panel's findings.
"Although I disagree with a number of the major conclusions, when the task force was established I committed to the president of the United States that if the task force acted in a fair and objective way I would abide by the result, and I intend to recommend that course of action," he said.
The panel, which also included Fred J. Drinkwater III, chief of aircraft operations at the NASA's Ames Research Center, and Lt. Gen. Howard W. Leaf, inspector general of the Air Force, found unanimously that the FAA's certification of the DC9-80 for operation by a crew of two was "proper" and in compliance with the Federal Aviation Act.
"Although we recommend ways in which the certification process can be improved and strengthened for the future, we are satisfied that enough work was done to assure that the requirements for certification were met," McLucas said at a press conference yesterday.
Although the new planes are still in production and haven't been approved for operation here by the FAA, the task force found that, as designed, the Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft and the A-310 aircraft being developed by Airbus Industrie, the European consortium, potentially can be operated safely by a crew of two.
The panel said the present FAA process, with some improvements it recommended, will ensure proper certification of such airplanes as the new Boeing models and proper review of the certification of such foreign-made aircraft as the A-310. "Judging from what we have seen of these three new airplanes, there is no indication that they will not achieve a level of safety at least comparable to presently operational jets," McLucas said.
The task force rejected arguments occasionally advanced that a "third pair of eyes" has averted a disaster in some cases. "If you look at the accidents which were prevented by the third pair of eyes and some that were caused by a mistake on the part of a third crew member, it all comes out to be essentially identical in terms of safety record," McLucas said. "There's no statistical advantage of one over the other."
If an airplane is properly designed for two in the cockpit, the third person -- "not gainfully employed" -- can be a "distraction," he said.
The panel also rejected the argument that three is better than two if one becomes incapacitated. Evidence in the record shows that incapacitation had been experienced in both two-crew and three-crew airplanes and had been handled successfully, McLucas said.
Two-crw airplanes aren't new; the McDonnell Douglas DC9 and the Boeing 737 are flown with two in the cockpit. The task force said that last year airplanes with two in the cockpit accounted for 24 percent of the scheduled airline fleet and 42 percent of all departures.