Much too often – almost always – media explains some goings on in the airline industry with: ”The pilot turned the plane around” or ”The pilot decided to make an intermediate landing” or whatever. Now – fortunately low cost madness has not reached that far – there is NEVER only one pilot on board an airliner, contrary to what you might believe reading the paper. So why are media doing this. Are they misinformed after all these years (like 70) of airline operation. Here is information for those who want to know.
An airline crew consists of cockpit (nowadays often referred to as flight deck) crew and cabin crew. The cabin crew consists of boss called different things in different airlines like The Chief Purser (CP), also titled as In-flight Service Manager (ISM), Flight Service Manager (FSM), Customer Service Manager (CSM) or Cabin Service Director (CSD), Cabin Chief, Senior Hostess or Steward, no 1 etc. indication a responsibility to lead the work onboard – in the cabin, not in the cockpit, we’re getting to that – regarding service to passengers and most of all the security procedures. Under her/him are the rest of the cabin crew, also called flight attendants, stewards/stewardesses, air hosts/hostesses, cabin attendants.
In the cockpit/flight deck it is easier – and thus should be easy for media to grasp. That little room up front is populated by Captains and Flight Officers. On any one airliner there is only one Captain who is also the Pilot in Command (PIC), (unless there is an augmented crew due to extensive flight time, but then there is always only one designated Pilot-in-Command (PIC) who is always one of those Captains). With him he has one or more Flight Officers (FO), who serves as a First Officer (F/O) – more often called Co-Pilot – or Second Officer (S/O) in the case of a three-pilot aircraft. Some airlines have a Flight Engineer (F/E) in lieu of a Second Officer – or a System Operator (S/O!) who is a combination of pilot and engineer. Getting complicated?
Let’s simplify. ”Captain” and ”Flight Officer” are titles. On board a captain works as PIC, seated in the left seat normally, and the flight officer is working as first officer/co-pilot (or second officer). Again, most modern airlines carry a captain and a co-pilot. Never less than that. (Automation has done away with the need for engineers, and navigators for that matter). The captain is also PIC and the other guy is always second in command of the aircraft. It might be relevant in this context to mention that the captain is in command of the whole aircraft, including the cabin crew. The first officer takes over this responsibility if necessary. Questions on that?
Now media: ”The PILOTS decided to turn around”, The CAPTAIN decided to make an intermediate landing”. Everyone in the cockpit is a pilot and the captain decides – or preferably they decide in unison. It you report that the pilot is in hospital after an accident it is not only misleading – it is only half the truth. What happened to the other guy?