In the post-deregulation period of the late 1970s, airlines were facing heavy price competition on routes that were now open to new rivals. At the same time, airplane system reliability, redundancy in the system design, and the exceptional record of the two-crew 737 led Boeing to examine the possibility of expanding the two-crew flight deck to the 757 and 767 design.
Airlines were interested in the two-crew aircraft for fleet expansion. Airbus was marketing its A310 and McDonnell Douglas its DC-9-80 -- both with two-pilot crews. Boeing believed that the long-term viability of the 757 and 767 would require the two-person flight deck, at least as an option.
Boeing wanted to give airlines a savings on weight and operating cost with the two-person flight deck. Because the 757 and 767 were developed at the same time, a basic design criteria was that the two airplanes be part of a "family," having common pilot type rating and sharing many parts, systems, testing and manufacturing processes.
United Airlines was the first to order the 767 (July 14, 1978). After lengthy deliberation, the airline decided that a three-person crew would reduce the introductory risk associated with being the first to put the 767 into revenue service. Boeing continued to develop a second, two-crew version as an option for later customers. Contracts with major suppliers for the two-crew flight deck were being established as early as October 1978.
By the end of that year, three different flight-deck configurations were being planned. The "hard-wired," or permanent, three-crew was to be introduced in August 1982 on the first 767 delivered to United. The 767 also would be available with a two-crew convertible option, meaning this design could be easily modified into a three-crew configuration. A third option, the three-crew convertible, was ready by February 1983. In this case, the design could be modified later to a two-crew configuration.
Boeing launched the 757 program in April 1979, and the first airplane was scheduled to roll out with the two-crew flight deck in January 1983. A three-crew convertible was to be ready for the 757 by April 1983.
The crew-size debate reached its peak in the spring of 1981, when a U.S. presidential task force was commissioned to determine the safety of two-crew operations for large widebody aircraft. After several months of hearings and extensive human-factors and safety data analyses, the task force concluded in July 1981 that two-crew operations could be conducted safely. This decision came less than a month before the first 767 was to roll out of the factory. Following the task force report, the United Airlines pilots' union agreed to fly a two-crew 767. With similar agreements among other airlines and their pilots, the last major barrier to full acceptance of the two-pilot configuration was removed.
Eleven of the 12 airlines that had ordered the three-crew 767s changed their orders to the two-crew design. The timing of a change of this magnitude had enormous implications for 767 production and certification. Extensive planning and lead time were needed. The first structural parts went into production two years before the airplane was to roll out of the factory in August 1981. The first avionics system (an inertial navigation gyro) was delivered 20 months before rollout.
By September 1981, Boeing had developed the necessary plans to retrofit airplanes already produced with the three-crew flight deck and to incorporate the new design into the production line, beginning with the 31st airplane.
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification proceeded on the first six airplanes produced. A seventh test airplane was added to the certification flight-test program after it had been retrofitted with the new digital flight deck. It took its first flight May 27, 1982 -- just three months after the 757 first flight. Boeing used the airplanes configured for three crew members to conduct certification tests that did not depend on the flight deck configuration. The crew size, workload and operational proof testing was conducted using the retrofitted two-crew test airplane.
To avoid slowing or interrupting the FAA certification process, Boeing chose to build the first 30 airplanes as fully functional (and certifiable) airplanes under the expected FAA certification for the three-crew model.
This decision was based on the company's ability to better control one of only two possible airplane configurations, rather than the many configurations that would have resulted if changes were incorporated on different airplanes at different stages of production.
Among the impacts of offering a two-crew flight deck were the cost of modifying 30 airplanes; the cost of the original design and installation of the three-person flight decks; and the delay of the delivery schedule (Boeing delivered 20 767s in 1982, eight fewer than planned).
FAA certification was awarded July 30, 1982, and United took first delivery August 19, 1982.
Also see: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Aug. 17, 1981; pages 32-33, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Sept. 21, 1981; page 30