“Excuse me, are you the pilot or the co-pilot?”
“I’m the First Officer, also known as co-pilot, who, however, is also a pilot”
That is a question I was asked by one of our honourable passengers yesterday. And I’ve been asked this question many times before. Trying to explain the difference is not that simple. People are confused about this issue. They think that there is only one pilot. There are two. If you say you’re the co-pilot they think you can’t fly the plane, which is obviously wrong. For the benefit of our blog readers, I would like to give a brief explanation of the difference:
Our Airbus must be flown by two pilots. There is a Commander (left seat) and a First Officer (right seat) in the cockpit. Both of them are pilots. But the rank is different. The Commander has the main responsibility for the aircraft. He is the “chief”. We have a flat hierarchy in the cockpit, but we do have one.
One shared task
What do the Commander and First Officer do during a flight? We share tasks and we check each other’s actions. A simplified example: The First Officer is flying to Barcelona. This means that they manual conduct the take-off and landing and during the flight they manage the autopilot. The Commander then takes care of radio communications, flight planning, fuel check follow up, etc. And as we fly back, tasks reverse, i.e. the Commander becomes the pilot flying and the First Officer will do fuel checks, radio communication, planning, etc.
It is clear that where difficult decisions have to be made, the main responsibility lies with the Commander. However, we are a team. Both team members in the cockpit participate in the creative solution-finding and then agree on the decision to be made. And at a certain stage the team also includes the cabin crew. It goes without saying that appreciation is greatest when the whole team (Commander, First Officer, Cabin Crew) stands behind a decision.
Last but not least, the passengers will be part of this team during the flight. We are all in the same “tube” and if a decision is being executed it affects everyone.
I hope I have succeeded in making things a bit clearer. And next time you hear the Commander saying “Our First Officer will fly you to Barcelona” you know that it is indeed a pilot steering the airship.