1. Home
  3. Single-pilot business aircraft

Single-pilot business aircraft


Some airmen will spend their entire careers operating as a one-man crew. Here’s a compendium of single-pilot-certified turbine-powered airplanes.

By Shannon Forrest
Contributing writer

Kodiak 100

At some point, every pilot is alone in an aircraft as the sole manipulator of the flight controls. For some, it happens during training. More specifically, during solo flight, as required by the regulations that define the certification requirements.

It doesn’t matter how many years have elapsed since that first solo, every pilot can still remember it when the instructor wasn’t there for the first time.

In the civilian world, when the instructor thinks the time is right to solo, he or she directs the student to the ramp, gets out of the aircraft, and says something like, “Take it around 3 times by yourself. Do it exactly the way we’ve been doing it. Don’t embarrass me. We’re all watching.”

If the aircraft is a single-engine piston with meager power to begin with, it performs differently without the weight of the now absent instructor. The procedures are the same, such as extending flaps at defined points in the traffic pattern.

Pilatus PC-12 NG

However, as the aircraft is lighter, the power settings that have been maintaining memorized airspeeds and descent rates are no longer accurate. More often that not, the pattern is high and fast the first time around. Savvy students question why and adapt accordingly the second time around.

Single-pilot ops

Learning is defined as a change in behavior as a result of experience, and there’s nothing better than single-pilot operations to provide those opportunities.

A lot is gleaned from operating solo. Those with fat logbooks and a lot of years behind the controls can attest that there’s a lot of “could have, would have, should have” stories hidden in those pages.

Piper M700 Fury

A typical career path for a nascent professional pilot is to start with reciprocating piston engines, eventually moving on to turboprops or jets.

All the turboprops that would be considered corporate aircraft are certified for single-pilot operations, including the single-engine Cessna Caravan, Daher’s Kodiak and TBM products, the Pilatus PC-12, and Piper’s M series aircraft.

Multi-engine turboprops include Beech King Air, Cessna Conquest, Piper Cheyenne, Piaggio Avanti, and Mitsubishi MU-2B aircraft. On the jet side, options include various Cessna Citation models, the Eclipse 500, Cirrus Vision Jet, Embraer’s Phenom 100 and 300, the HondaJet, and the Pilatus PC-24.

Crew resource management

A pilot’s transition from being by oneself to working with someone in the close confines of a cockpit requires a paradigm adjustment. Here’s where crew resource management (CRM) comes in.

TBM 960

FAA’s AC 120-51E, Crew Resource Management Training, prescribes CRM curriculum, training, and evaluation. The most salient topics include situational awareness, decision-making, workload management, communication, stress management, and fatigue mitigation.

Early iterations of CRM focused heavily on personal types and self-awareness. One classic exercise involved identifying whether a pilot was concerned more for people or process (and to what degree), and this information was cataloged on a grid.

One twist to the exercise was that after a pilot self-identified his personality type, his colleagues then specified what they thought of him.

In many cases there was a wide disparity between the answers, which generated introspection and hopefully induced change in the case of unsafe behavior correlated with his personality.

Over the years, CRM has transitioned away from the individual to a more team-oriented approach. The most recent iteration is described as threat and error management. The goal is to identify potential threats and apply defenses before an undesired state develops.

King Air 360

One methodology related to CRM in crew operations is the concept of monitoring. More experienced pilots will remember the days when pilots in a 2-pilot crew were called the pilot flying (PF) and the pilot not flying (PNF).

From a psychological perspective, it’s better to tell someone what to do (monitor) than what not to do (not fly). Therefore, the terminology was changed, and the PNF is now called pilot monitoring (PM).

In practice, the PM model uses the acronym CAMI (confirm, activate, monitor, intervene) as an operating technique. Before making an appreciable change, the PF asks the PM if he/she agrees with the action (confirm), then completes the action (activate).

The PM then maintains an active watch over the flight parameters (monitor), and if the results are different than what’s expected, performs an action to remedy the situation (intervene).


Citation CJ4

In single-pilot operations, the checks and balances and monitoring component associated with a second pilot are absent. In short, there’s no one telling the pilot that he or she is doing something wrong. Nor is there a PM to look over and spot fatigue and related errors.

The safety of single-pilot turbine aircraft operations is constantly called into question, and an honest assessment requires acknowledging biases. In the entry-level turboprop market, there’s a significant number of self-flying business owners who describe it as a hassle – both in terms of time and money – to hire a pilot to function as a second-in-command.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which opposes vehemently any operation conducted with one pilot when 2 could be present. There’s an inexorable financial stake on both sides of the argument. After all, single-pilot flight departments save the cost of the additional salary and benefits.

The first approval for single-pilot jets came in 1977, with the Cessna Citation I SP. To receive a certification to operate with one pilot, a manufacturer had to demonstrate that one pilot could access all the controls and handle the workload of the aircraft and the operating environment. More than 4 decades later, many business aircraft have received the certification. However, transport category aircraft still require a crew of 2 or more.

Cirrus Vision Jet

Are 2 pilots better than one?

There’s an adage in the military special operations community that says one is none, 2 is one, and 3 is for me. The principle is that more is always better. It’s logical to draw a conclusion that 2 pilots are safer than one. However, that’s not always the case.

There’s a lot of things that turn a 2-pilot crew into an ad hoc single-pilot operation. A wide authority gradient between crew members can cause the junior member to “shut down” and fail to monitor and challenge deviations effectively.

Personality conflicts and communication problems also divide the cockpit. Nearly all pilots with experience in a crewed operation can recall at least one instance in which they felt uncomfortable interacting with the other pilot, and that environment led to a reduction in safety.

Over the years, there have been many studies comparing accidents involving single-pilot and dual-pilot crews flying the same jet aircraft type. The slight safety advantage in having 2 pilots operate the same single-pilot-certified aircraft type is reduced workload during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing.

Phenom 300

It’s interesting to note that some corporate and charter operators use a second pilot in turbine aircraft certified for single-pilot operations. It’s possible that this is a function of insurance requirements, the type of regulations under which the flight is operated, or the comfort factor of the passengers.

It could also be that the operator philosophically believes that 2 pilots are better than one.

One of the shortfalls of accident analysis is the benefit of hindsight. What’s relevant but is unknowable, is how many potential accidents have been averted because of the actions of a single pilot or a crew. Unless the event makes the news (or pilots self-disclose or violate an FAR), no one knows about it.

How do we make single-pilot aircraft safer?

HondaJet Elite II

As single pilot turbine operations are here to stay, a better question may be how these operations could be as safe as possible without the benefit of another pilot. Aircraft manufacturers have taken a technological approach.

Pilatus touts its single-pilot-certified airplanes as having the advanced avionics of high-end business jets tailored for the single pilot. To aid single-pilot situational awareness, Pilatus includes tactile feedback in unusual attitudes, emergency descent mode, and a multi-function display that calls up electronic checklists.

Daher takes a human-centered approach that benefits from operational expertise and customer feedback. Its E-Copilot system incorporates electronic stability and underspeed protection, angle of attack (AoA)/stall indicator and stick shaker, and automated ice protection.

When things go really bad, there’s a single-button wing leveler/altitude hold function and an emergency autoland function.

Pilatus PC-24

Legacy single-pilot jet and turboprop operators could also benefit from a host of aftermarket avionics packages that can aid in situational awareness and decision-making. In single-pilot operations, technology is a surrogate for the pilot monitoring.


From the standpoint of human factors, ensuring one is fit for flight (eg, following the guidelines within the FAA IMSAFE checklist) and strict adherence to standard operating procedures are good practices. It’s doing the right thing when no one is watching. More specifically, it’s easy to take procedural shortcuts when there’s no other pilot present.

In many cases, this normalization of deviance is the precursor to an accident. Resist the urge. The difference between the very first solo flight and operating a turboprop or jet solo is the experience gained in between. Despite that time lapse, when flying solo, many of us continue to hear the sage words of that initial instructor when he stepped out of the plane and left us alone for the first time.  He told us to aviate, navigate, and communicate. In that order. Those words still hold true.

ForrestShannon Forrest is a current line pilot, CRM facilitator, and aviation safety consultant. He has more than 15,000 hrs TT and holds a degree in behavioral psychology.