Cathay Pacific (CX, Hong Kong Int'l) is working with Airbus to develop procedures to operate long-haul flights with a single pilot on duty during the en-route phase, sources told Reuters.

The Hong Kong-based carrier hopes that such a development, dubbed Project Connect, would reduce the number of A350 pilots required to operate its long-haul flights. While two pilots on duty would still be needed for the take-off and landing phases, during the flight, only one would have to be in the cockpit as the other would be able to rest. This could allow the routes to be operated with two pilots rather than the three or four currently necessary to stay within the working hour limits.

"While we are engaging with Airbus in the development of the concept of reduced crew operations, we have not committed in any way to being the launch customer," Cathay Pacific said.

The manufacturer has touted the A350 as a type ready for potential reduced-crew operations due to advanced autopilot systems, but airlines have generally been wary of the idea. Cathay Pacific operates twenty-seven A350-900s and fourteen A350-1000s, with a further three and four of the respective types on firm order.

Lufthansa is also involved in Project Connect but has no plans to actively pursue reduced-crew operations for its own flights.

FedEx Express is reportedly working with Sikorsky Aircraft to develop procedures for full-single-pilot operations of its Avions de Transport RĂ©gional freighters, wherein only a single pilot would be present in the aircraft at all times.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said previously that while single-pilot enroute operations were imaginable, they would require the development of technology to monitor the physical and mental health of the pilot on duty and the availability to summon the resting crew member at short notice.

Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post has reported that Cathay Pacific has been struggling to secure the extension of work visas for its foreign cabin crew based out of Hong Kong. Since December 2020, the Immigration Department has only been issuing short-term, three-month extensions, citing the need to prioritise Hong Kong citizens in the carrier's employment practices.

In an internal memo, the airline contended the Hong Kong authorities' decision meant it would have to offer redundancy packages to most of its foreign cabin crew members. However, it underlined that it would continue to appeal against the refusal to extend visas for Japanese and Korean cabin crew members due to the necessary language skills.

The denial to extend work visas only affects cabin crew members and not expatriate pilots. However, passenger aircraft pilots are only receiving six-month or one-year extensions to their visas, even as freighter pilots have their permits extended by up to three years.