you cannot imagine how bad I feel that I have neglected my blog for a while. Lately my travels kept me very busy, therefore my productivity went doen. This fact and the packing are the two things I dislike most about traveling.
Are you ready for another aviation related blog post? You probably have questioned yourself what is really the difference between a captain and first officer. How many times have I heard people saying: “Ah you are the captain now, so you are finally allowed to fly the airplane!” In this blog post I will share with you the four major differences between Captain and First Officer.
Age is not an indicator of whether a pilot is a Captain or First Officer. I have flown with First Officers who were almost double my age. Have a look at the number of stripes of the pilot uniform. Three stripes stand for First Officer and four for Captain. In genral, the higher the number of stripes, the higher is the rank.
Sometimes you might spot two stripes on a pilot uniform. This is a Junior First Officer who is either still in training or has not reached a certain hours flown. You might have also seen three stripes with a really thick one. This stands for a Senior First Officer. This pilot is very expereicend and he/she can fly from the left seat during cruise flight when the captain is taking a break on long-range flight for exampl. Speaking about the seat position. The Captain is seated in the left side whereas the First Officer in the right. These positions must not be interchanged. However, Captains can receive a right seat check out (additional training required) which allows them to fly from the left as well.
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How many times have I heard people say: “Ah you are the Captain, so you are finally the real pilot!” What was I before an unreal or fake pilot?! Both crew members regardless of their rank can be called pilots.
This might surprise you: Captains fly their aieplane as much as First Officers. Before each flight the crew decides how is PF (pilot Flying) or PNF (Pilot not flying or pilot monitoring). The PF controls the plane, performs the take-off, controls the autopilot in cruise flight and does the landing. The PNF fills the flight log, communicates with air traffic control (ATC) and supports the PF. Usually, I leave the choice to my First Officers which role they would like to perform. The answer is always the same when the weather is bad or it is getting late: I prefer to do the next flight 😉
There are cases where the Captain determines that he or she wants to fly due to weather or other special reasons. Addtionally, the there are some circumstances in which the First Officer is not allowed to fly. (more in detail at a later point)
So why doesn’t the Captain fly the whole time?
- Fatigue is better distributed if both pilots fly.
- First Officers gain experience they will need as captains.
- Flying is not always the best use of the Captain’s experience, training and time. In cases of abnormal issues such as a system malfunction, it may be better for the Captain not to be tied up flying. That way he/she can concentrate and coordinate the appropriate actions.
The major difference is that the captain always has the responsibility. From the time the Captain boards the plane until he/she leaves the plane again (no matter who is flying!!!), the Captain is responsible for the flight and is in command of it. The First officer is the second in command.
The commercial operation of an aeroplane requires a high level of standarization. Guidelines, regulations, limitations and procdues on how to operate an aircraft are written in the opertional manuals. This grants a high level of safety and allows a new crew composition to fly with each other since they follow the prescibed operational procedures.
It is the job of the Captain to taxi the aircraft on ground due to the fact that the tiller (steering wheel of the nose gear) is mounted only on one side of the cockpit. The Airbus A300-600 has also a tiller on the First Officer side. This feautre does not automatically grant the First Officer to taxi as well. Most airlines follow a philosophy that it should be only the Captain taxing since he/she is responsible of the aircraft. An outdated philosophy since one day the First Officer becomes a Captain without any practice taxing.
Coming back to the cases in which the First Officer is NOT allowed to fly:
- Takeoffs below 400m runway visual range (RVR).
- CAT 2/3. when the weather is below CAT1 which means in most cases an RVR of less than 550m with a decision height of 200m.
To sum it up: Everytime it gets more challenging it the Captains task to fly , because he/she is trained to operate in low visibilty (LOVIS) and usually has more expierence.
The topic that everyone is most curious about. Moneywise there is a big difference in the salary of a Captain and a First Officer. To have the entire responsibility for a multi-million Euro jet, the lives of the passengers and the rest of the crew, a Captain gets paid extra. A safe flight depends on the ultimate judgement and decision making of the Captain. As a general rule you can say that a Captain makes about 50% more than a First officer. So if a First Officer makes about 60,000€ a captain makes at least 90,000 €. It can be also more than double or even more than that if company affliliation is a longer or when a Captain has additional tasks and responsibilites (eg. instructor).
Which question about aviation would you like to have answered next? Let me know in a comment below and don’t forget to like my blog about the differences between Captain and First Officer.
Safe travels and happy landings!