A Ryanair flight from Tenerife to East Midlands Airport was forced to make an emergency landing on Thursday night after a member of crew was taken seriously ill. It was later revealed that the First Officer had been “incapacitated” prompting the plane to stop on the runway so that paramedics could immediately board the plane and start tending to the pilot.
Ryanair flight FR3153 departed from the Canary Islands at around 6:12 pm on Thursday without incident but was forced to declare an emergency as it passed over the Englsh Channel a short time before its scheduled arrival.
The Boeing 737 stopped on the runway after landing and the runway was closed to inbound flights which were forced to divert to Manchester airport as medical personnel responded to the incident.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the First Officer was incapacitated or what their current condition is.
In 2010, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary scorned at the purpose of the First Officer or co-pilot, saying they were unnecessary and they were largely employed to make sure the Captain didn’t fall asleep.
“In 25 years with over about 10 million flights, we’ve had one pilot who suffered a heart attack in flight and he landed the plane,” O’Leary told the Financial Times at the time.
His comments prompted a fierce backlash from pilot unions and consumer groups but a Ryanair spokesperson said the airline was simply “starting the debate so that we can look to reduce costs without compromising safety.”
“Given the sophistication of our aircraft we believe that one pilot flying can operate safely on short routes and reduce fares for all passengers,” a statement from the carrier continued.
While Ryanair hasn’t tried to get rid of the First Officer in the 10-years since those comments were made, aircraft manufacturer Airbus is actively developing a system for single-pilot operations on long-haul flights.
The secret project, which has been codenamed ‘Connect’, would see just one pilot on the flight deck for much of the time that a plane is in the high altitude cruise phase of the flight. The other pilot would be resting and both pilots would be on the flight deck for both takeoff and landing.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is said to be in talks with Airbus over deploying the system on its A350 aircraft, although German flag carrier Lufthansa has distanced itself from the project over various safety fears.
In 2018, Ryanair’s O’Leary mused that completely pilotless planes could see the light of day within the next 40 years.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.