• Pilots are highly trained professionals who fly airplanes or helicopters to carry out a wide variety of tasks.
  • Most are airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers who transport passengers and cargo.
  • However, some commercial pilots are involved in dusting crops, spreading seed for reforestation, testing aircraft, flying passengers and cargo to areas not served by regular airlines, directing fire fighting efforts, tracking criminals, monitoring traffic, and rescuing and evacuating injured persons.
  • Except on small aircraft, two pilots usually make up the cockpit crew.
  • Generally, the most experienced pilot, the captain, is in command and supervises all other crew members.
  • The pilot and the co-pilot, often called the first officer, share flying and other duties, such as communicating with air traffic controllers and monitoring the instruments.
  • Some large aircraft have a third crewmember, the flight engineer, who assists the pilots by monitoring and operating many of the instruments and systems, making minor in-flight repairs, and watching for other aircraft.
  • The flight engineer also assists the pilots with the company, air traffic control, and cabin crew communications.
  • New technology can perform many flight tasks, however, and virtually all new aircraft now fly with only two pilots, who rely more heavily on computerized controls.
  • Before departure, pilots plan their flights carefully.
  • They thoroughly check their aircraft to make sure that the engines, controls, instruments, and other systems are functioning properly.
  • They also make sure that baggage or cargo has been loaded correctly.
  • They confer with flight dispatchers and aviation weather forecasters to find out about weather conditions en route and at their destination.
  • Based on this information, they choose a route, altitude, and speed that will provide the safest, most economical, and smoothest flight.
  • When flying under instrument flight rules—procedures governing the operation of the aircraft when there is poor visibility—the pilot in command, or the company dispatcher, normally files an instrument flight plan with air traffic control so that the flight can be coordinated with other air traffic.
  • Takeoff and landing are the most difficult parts of the flight, and require close coordination between the two pilots.
  • For example, as the plane accelerates for takeoff, the pilot concentrates on the runway while the co-pilot, scans the instrument panel.
  • To calculate the speed they must attain to become airborne, pilots consider the altitude of the airport, outside temperature, weight of the plane, and speed and direction of the wind.
  • The moment the plane reaches takeoff speed, the co-pilot informs the pilot, who then pulls back on the controls to raise the nose of the plane.
  • Captains and first officers usually alternate flying each leg from takeoff to landing.
  • Unless the weather is bad, the flight itself is relatively routine.
  • Airplane pilots, with the assistance of autopilot and the flight management computer, steer the plane along their planned route and are monitored by the air traffic control stations they pass along the way.
  • They regularly scan the instrument panel to check their fuel supply; the condition of their engines; and the air-conditioning, hydraulic, and other systems. Pilots may request a change in altitude or route if circumstances dictate.
  • For example, if the ride is rougher than expected, pilots may ask air traffic control if pilots flying at other altitudes have reported better conditions; if so, they may request an altitude change.
  • This procedure also may be used to find a stronger tailwind or a weaker headwind to save fuel and increase speed.
  • In contrast, because helicopters are used for short trips at relatively low altitude, helicopter pilots must be constantly on the lookout for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other dangerous obstacles as well as low-flying general aviation aircraft.
  • Regardless of the type of aircraft, all pilots must monitor warning devices designed to help detect sudden shifts in wind conditions that can cause crashes.
  • Pilots must rely completely on their instruments when visibility is poor.
  • On the basis of altimeter readings, they know how high above ground they are and whether they can fly safely over mountains and other obstacles.
  • Special navigation radios give pilots precise information that, with the help of special charts, tells them their exact position.
  • Other very sophisticated equipment provides directions to a point just above the end of a runway and enables pilots to land completely without an outside visual reference.
  • Once on the ground, pilots must complete records on their flight and the aircraft maintenance status for their company.
  • The number of non-flying duties that pilots have depends on the employment setting.
  • Airline pilots have the services of large support staffs and, consequently, perform few non-flying duties.
  • However, because of the large numbers of passengers, airline pilots may be called upon to coordinate handling of disgruntled or disruptive passengers.
  • Pilots employed by other organizations, such as charter operators or businesses, have many other duties.They may load the aircraft, handle all passenger luggages to ensure a balanced load, and supervise refuelling; other non-flying responsibilities include keeping records, scheduling flights, arranging for major maintenance, and performing minor aircraft maintenance and repairs.
  • Some pilots are flight instructors. They teach their students in ground-school classes, in simulators, and in dual-controlled planes and helicopters.
  • A few specially trained pilots are examiners or check pilots. They periodically fly with other pilots or pilot's license applicants to make sure that they are proficient.
  • Regional airlines and low-cost carriers will present the best opportunities; pilots attempting to get jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition.
  • Population growth and an expanding economy in the long run are expected to boost the demand for air travel, contributing to job growth.
  • New jobs will be created as airlines expand their capacity to meet this rising demand by increasing the number of planes in operation and the number of flights offered.
  • Job opportunities are expected to be best for experienced pilots with the regional airlines and low-cost carriers, which are expected to grow faster than the major airlines.
  • Opportunities with air cargo carriers also should arise because of increasing security requirements for shipping freight on passenger airlines, growth in electronic commerce, and increased demand for global freight.
  • Business, commuter, corporate, and on-demand air taxi travel also should provide some new jobs for pilots.
  • Pilots attempting to get jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition, as those firms tend to attract many more applicants than the number of job openings.
  • Applicants also will have to compete with laid-off pilots for any available jobs.
  • Pilots who have logged the greatest number of flying hours using sophisticated equipment typically have the best prospects.
  • Employment of pilots is sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy.
  • During recessions, when a decline in the demand for air travel forces airlines to ground planes and curtail the number of flights, airlines may temporarily furlough some pilots.
Although they are not in the cockpit, other occupations that also play an important role in making sure flights are safe and on schedule, and participate in many of the decisions that pilots must make, include Air traffic controllers; Airfield operations specialists.
  • A College degree with flight training from certified civilian flying schools.
  • All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must have a commercial pilot's license.
This career information is drawn from data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.