Ask the Captain: If both pilots become incapacitated, who can land the plane?

Ask the Captain: If both pilots become incapacitated, who can land the plane?

Why is is it so difficult and extremely frustrating to deboard a plane? Why can't this process be managed better by the airlines? They seem to have the authority and the power to control and regulate and assist, but yet the crew does not do much during this process.

– LL, Puget Sound, Washington

Moving hundreds of people out of a single door in a few minutes is challenging but done successfully thousands of times each day. The deplaning process is usually pretty efficient, as there is a common goal to get off as quickly as possible.

On large airplanes where the boarding door is aft of business class, there can be congestion as deplaning economy passengers merge with business class passengers. Otherwise, it moves pretty quickly.

The current need for social distancing will slow down the process somewhat, at least for the time being. However, the airlines appear to be doing all they can to protect passengers while moving them to their destinations.

In a real situation where the pilot and co-pilot become incapacitated and are unable to fly the plane while in the air, can any onboard FAA-certified small plane pilot be placed into service, or is there a backup emergency in place? Who else could/would do the job of flying and landing?

– TED, Florida

First, I don’t know of a case where both crew members became incapacitated so we are dealing with a movie script vs reality.

There are a very wide variety of pilots that fly smaller airplanes. Some fly small jets or sophisticated turbo props could easily set up the airliner for an auto landing after talking with an instructor to determine how to program the flight management system.

It would be more difficult for a single-engine private pilot due to the complexities of airliner flight management computers.

There have been cases where non-pilots have landed small airplanes so I would certainly say it is possible.