You wouldn’t get very far on a flight without pilots: They are the people who put all that sophisticated equipment to work. On commercial airlines, there are always at least two pilots, and on many flights, there are three.
All airline pilots have had extensive training and flying experience, often as part of military service. The road from the first training flight to the airline cockpit is a long and difficult one, but for many pilots, this is the only way to go. To learn more about this career path, one should be aware of the intricacies in piloting.
On an airliner, the pilot in command is called the captain. The captain, who generally sits on the left side of the cockpit, is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the flight. This includes making major command decisions, leading the crew team, managing emergencies and handling particularly troublesome passengers. The captain also flies the plane for much of the trip, but generally trades off with the first officer at some point.
The first officer, the second in command, sits on the right side of the cockpit. He or she has all of the same controls as the captain, and has had the same level of training.
The primary reason for having two pilots on every flight is safety. Obviously, if something happens to the captain, a plane must have another pilot who can step in. Additionally, the first officer provides a second opinion on piloting decisions, keeping pilot error to a minimum.
Most airliners built before 1980 have a cockpit position for a flight engineer, also called the second officer. Typically, flight engineers are fully trained pilots, but on an ordinary trip, they don’t fly the plane. Instead, they monitor the airplane’s instruments and calculate figures such as ideal takeoff and landing speed, power settings and fuel management. In newer airliners, most of this work is done by computerized systems, eliminating the need for the flight-engineer position. In the future, it will be phased out entirely.
Flying an airplane is fun. Getting paid to do it is even better. For some people, it’s the perfect job: an office that travels, a view that’s constantly changing and challenges that are exhilarating. It has been said that a pilot’s job is hours of boredom punctuated with seconds of sheer terror. This is perhaps hyperbole, but sometimes not all that far from the truth.
A person who takes a multimillion dollar machine, casually flies it off the ground and then safely returns it, fascinates people. They wonder what it’s like to be responsible for hundreds of lives or goods worth millions. When passengers peek inside a cockpit, they are amazed. They stare at the multitude of dials and ask incredulously, „Do you really know what they all do?“
Pilots are the focal point and end operator in a huge team of highly trained professionals. They are the movie stars of the air transportation show, because they are the most visible people to the public, while most of the other team members remain „behind the scenes.“ But movie stars rarely die or cause others to die because of an on-the-job mistake. All pilots run that risk. Piloting is a serious business.