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We are all aware that at any given time there are at least two pilots in the cockpit who are in control of the airplane. However, the question arises: – Who are they?  How qualified are they? Is one of them the boss? Is one an assistant?  Whose role is what? Does it actually take 2 people to fly this airplane?
The answer to these questions, one needs to know two very important yet a daily job profile that a pilot could possibly hold. They are: – A “Captain” or a “First Officer”.

Both these positions are qualified, licensed and can fly an airplane by working together as a team. Should the one be incapacitated the other will be able to single-handedly fly the airplane safely to a landing. What majorly differentiates the two of them are two things: –
1-    The experience they have as a pilot (company seniority, airplane technical experience, time on specific types, etc.)
2-    The authority to make the final the decision should there be ambiguity or disagreements in critical/ safety intensive scenarios.

Now that I have introduced you to the world of a Captain and First Officer, let us take a closer look into their individual job profile and what are the key responsibilities they hold.

Captain– Also known as the “Pilot in Command”. The ultimate authority pertaining to the safe operation of a flight with passengers, crew and cargo rests in the hands of the Captain. This role is more of a managerial role than a flying role. It is important to understand that: – A Captain usually comes with a lot of flying experience, however, apart from flying the airplane, it is their duty to ensure the crew work in synchrony to be able to safely conduct the flight to its destination. Many at times the captain is the first and last point of contact for anyone from the outside wanting to work with the aircraft. Considering this role requires one to oversee people’s work; flying might always not be the best use of a captain’s time, training and experience. In any abnormal situation delegating the flying and being able to take a step back to think and chart an appropriate course of action would be ideal. The Captain would usually
decide who does the flying based on weather, experience or airport requirements (Some airports are captains only take-off and landing due to safety factors). Last but not the least from a legal standpoint the Captain can be the first person to be held liable for any mishap.

First Officer– Also known as the “Second in Command”.  The next after a Captain in the hierarchy comes the First Officer. One of the most important roles held by a First Officer is: – Should anything happen to the captain during the course of flight (incapacitation, medical illness, etc.) the First Officer must assume command of the Aircraft and becomes the next in charge.  In normal flying: – The First Officer shall with the Captain brief the crew of all flight details and after have an individual briefing where the Captain will assign either Flying or Non-Flying duties (Air traffic communication, fuel calculations, other paperwork, etc.)  to the First Officer. Usually, the First Officer would be lesser experienced than a captain. It becomes the responsibility of the First Officer to learn, ask questions and groom themselves with the help of the Captain to one day become a Captain themselves.  The First Officer is equally a pilot and does every flying and non-flying duty that a captain does. Airlines often refer to a First Officer as; – “A Captain in the making”.

Fun facts-

  • Captains wear 4 striped bars on their shoulders and First Officers wear 3 striped
  • A Captain flies the aircraft from the left seat and the First Officer from the right seat.
  • The Captain and First Officer never eat the same meal on board for food poisoning
  • Each has its own set of instruments to cross-check and independent controls to fly
    the aircraft.

Like anything in aviation, the reason for the two pilots is redundancy. There are limited options during the flight at 37,000 feet should things go wrong.  Teamwork, team effort and the ability to work together as a team to achieve success can never be more visible in any place than here.
Two qualified pilots together working in sync using all available recourses given to them has historically always proven to deliver safe and optimum results. As always folks- Stay safe, stay healthy and chin up.

Until next time, and as always, “We Speak Aviation.”

The article is written by Pilotamireh Social Media Team Member Vignesh Sridhar 


  • inge van den berg
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    goodafternoon Captain Amireh, you wrote :
    \”Like everything in aviation, the reason for the two pilots is redundancy\”. But also \”One of the helpful tasks of a first officer is: – Should anything happen to the captain during the flight (incapacity for work, medical illness, etc.\” This shows the necessity of a 1st officer, because what if something happens with the Captain?So there can be no redundancy. With kindly regards, Inge

  • Sahil Chowdhury
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Awesome article PilotAmireh. Really like what you and your team are doing. Love the knowledge and the structure of this article. Really loved the perspectives and the examples you used. Actually one of the great article writers I have seen so far.

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