Airline pilots generally start their career as a “first officer” or “co-pilot” as the media like to call it. The first officer is the second in command, and will fly the aircraft and do the same job as the captain, except that the captain has the overriding authority.

At the beginning of the day the two pilots usually decide who will fly the different portions of the route. The first officer might fly the aircraft to the first destination and the captain could fly to the second. The pilot who isn’t operating the controls is usually responsible for talking to the air traffic controllers and completing the paperwork. There is a lot to do during a flight, and operating the controls is only one part.

A newly qualified first officer will have tight limitations placed on the weather conditions they are allowed to fly in and the types of airports they can operate to. But as their experience level grows these limitations are relaxed and they eventually become a senior first officer. Senior first officers benefit from greater pay and an all important extra stripe on their jacket, going from two bars to three.

Depending on the company there are several options for promotion:

• After a certain level of experience senior first officers are able to apply to become a captain. Obviously they will have to pass the required examination (ATPL) and demonstrate that they have the right skills to do the job.

• There may be an option of moving to a larger type of aircraft instead of becoming a captain, and operating long haul routes.

• Once you have become a captain you could eventually take on the role of training new pilots and maintaining company standards. This involves a lot of time spent in the simulator and less time actually flying passengers.

• Some airlines offer their senior pilots management positions in the company, or a role in the recruitment team.

Challenges of the Airline Industry

One of the biggest challenges for airlines today is costs. Fuel prices feature prominently on an airline’s balance sheet, and pilots play an important role in keeping them to a minimum. By carefully assessing the weather conditions and likely delays at the destination, pilots are able to judge the best amount of fuel to take which strikes the right balance between safety and economy.

Environmental concerns also play an important role, reducing the amount of fuel not only saves the company money but also reduces its carbon footprint. Reducing the noise levels at airports has led to different techniques of flying, and with many airports recording the noise along the departure routes, if pilots fail to follow the right procedure they could land their company with a penalty fine.

With the introduction of stricter security measures at airports, pilots have to be constantly aware of the risks of a breach. A situation as innocent as a passenger feeling unwell and wanting to get off the flight now has to be treated as a potential terrorist plot, and the aircraft may have to be searched for hidden packages.