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- Officially, the Citation X is not rated for single pilot operations
- However, thanks to the systems onboard, the Citation X can be flown by a single pilot
- But that doesn’t mean it should be flown by a single pilot
With almost triple the MTOW federal regs will allow for single pilot flying, the Citation X requires two pilots, but if not, would it be single pilot friendly?
Yes. With cutting-edge avionics technology, the Citation X is single pilot friendly. The dual systems in the Citation X are there for redundancy. Everything a pilot can do from the left, can be done from the right, except for using the tiller for taxiing.
As a corporate pilot responsible for passengers, I find the Citation X infinitely capable of single-pilot operations, but I make it a point to fly with a copilot, both to comply with regulations and for my own peace of mind.
Cessna Citation X
The Cessna Citation can make it from LA to New York in just four hours, flying at close to Mach 1. It is one of Cessna's most advanced jets, typically configured for eight to twelve passengers and two crew. Before its newest iteration, the Citation X+, the Citation X was the fastest non-military aircraft currently in service.
With a full glass cockpit and redundant systems that are capable of being controlled from the left or right, Cessna designed this aircraft to offer a fast, comfortable, and safe flight for crew and passengers. It even took into consideration single pilot operation in an emergency.
With a service ceiling of 51,000 feet, the Citation X routinely flies above 40,000 feet. When flying above 41,000 feet, single pilot operations might become a bit more difficult. Even if at this altitude, the aircraft itself is safe and capable.
Federal regulation requires one of the two pilots to constantly remain on supplemental oxygen. This would mean that if there is only one pilot, he or she would have to be on supplemental oxygen for the entire time. While single pilot operation is possible, having to don a mask for the entire flight would make it highly intrusive and distracting.
The Citation X comes with five large screens to display every possible piece of information the pilots require. From systems to navigation, and communications to weather, each pilot can choose the manner in which he wants the information displayed on his or her side of the cockpit.
In adherence to CRM best practices, each pilot divides the duties as per regulations and company instructions and then sets up their own screens to execute their responsibilities better.
With these advanced systems, single-pilot operations are possible, and in an emergency, like the incapacitation of one of the crew, one pilot could certainly operate the aircraft safely, Cessna did not intend for it to be a single-pilot aircraft.
Risks of Single Pilot Operations
While almost any large modern plane can be flown by a single pilot in an emergency, few manufacturers recommend single pilot operations. There are three critical reasons to stay away from single pilot ops.
Larger aircraft have more systems to monitor and operate beyond just flying the airplane. While a single pilot could certainly fly the airplane, the addition of turning systems on and off, and managing them en route increases the workload considerably leading to mental and physical fatigue.
The increased workload could also hasten the onset of fatigue, thereby reducing focus during the most critical stage of flight - the approach and landing.
This is especially true for jets that are transitioning between phases of flight. From the take-off roll to the climb phase, the aircraft goes through a slight change. It then goes through a larger change when it transitions to the en route phase, then once again on descent in preparation for landing.
With computers to monitor and operate many of the systems, you may think you can sit back and let everything take care of itself.
However, monitoring requires as much redundancy as operating, if not more. While computers detect problems and alert pilots with great efficiency, they do so only after something has gone wrong.
Human monitoring is slightly different. We monitor trends. A slight decrease in oil pressure may not be a cause for concern or set any alarms off by a computer. But a continuous decrease gives a human pilot cause for concern. They could possibly troubleshoot the anomaly before the issue escalates into a problem.
Additionally, monitoring systems during normal operations can be tedious but will be exhausting during an emergency when flying the aircraft remains the priority.
In an emergency, some systems would take priority over flying. A fire, for instance. Or, a bird strike. While one pilot handles the aircraft and communicates with ATC, the second pilot could run the checklist and troubleshoot the problem. This is untenable in a single pilot operation.
With the risks outlined, could the Cessna Citation X still be considered single pilot friendly? The answer is that it is if the emergency in question is pilot incapacitation. If only one pilot remains to fly the aircraft because the other pilot is incapacitated, the Citation X is easy to fly to the nearest landing or even the destination, depending on the nature of the incapacitation.
However, it is not recommended that any jet be routinely flown by only one pilot.
Safety Considerations When Flying Single Pilot
In the event you land up flying single-pilot in a small aircraft, there are a few tips and tricks you could use to keep your flight safe.
- Keep each leg within your personal limit. For some, that's two hours, for others that could be four. That would be about the right interval to relieve your bladder. Since you will be at a cabin altitude of 8000 feet, it is easy to get dehydrated. Rehydrate frequently and use the facilities as needed. Hydration enhances focus.
- Have a sterile cockpit when flying single-pilot. Don't allow your passengers to distract you. And you certainly should not distract yourself from flight ops.
- Keep a close eye on all systems and stay ahead of the aircraft by reviewing the next phase of flight.
- Divide your attention between the inside and the outside of the aircraft.
- Prepare for the flight two days in advance.
Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM)
The National Business Aircraft Association recommends that single pilots adopt SRM, as opposed to CRM - Cockpit Resource Management. There are three elements in SRM that a pilot would need to understand.
Flying single-pilot without any automation increases the risk considerably. As a private pilot with an instrument rating in a light aircraft, it's acceptable, but when you step into a jet, things are going to be moving much faster, with a lot more momentum.
Remember what your flight instructor told you. Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. And in that order. There is a reason for that. Loss of Control is the leading reason behind light aircraft accidents. So fly the plane first.
When you're in a jet, the same risk applies. The reason you don't see many jet accidents attributed to loss of control is that most pilots have the flying part of their task automated.
With its advanced autopilot and navigation systems, the Citation X is one of the best aircraft to automate all the way to landing, and thus could reduce the workload in the event of single pilot operations.
Task and Workload Management
Aircraft accidents are never isolated. They are just the last part of a chain of events. The main objective of Workload Management is to identify the start of that chain and arrest its progress and follow every checklist task to its conclusion. Forgetting something on the checklist could be the start of a chain of events that leads to an incident.
The third aspect of SRM is to maintain situational awareness. With the navigation system that comes with the Cessna Citation X, it is easy to keep fully aware of where you are during any phase of the flight.
Asking if the Cessna Citation X is single pilot friendly or not isn’t really the same thing as asking if it is meant to be flown by one person.
It is single pilot friendly but not meant to be flown by a single pilot. That remains true even if the FAA decides to alter the regulations covering this or alters the type certificate on the aircraft.
Flying a large aircraft with complex systems alone is never a good idea. The problem is not with the aircraft, but with the pilot. So while the Citation X is a robust and technologically advanced aircraft, having a redundant crew is always a good idea.