Co-Pilot lands plane! Oh my!

Co-Pilot lands plane! Oh my!
And we don't wear our hats in flight, either. Duh.

Co-pilots, First Officers, whatever you want to call the person sitting to the right of the Captain, (“Roger”?) know how to fly the plane, up to and including, landing it.

I’m always a bit stunned when news stories seem to imply otherwise.  Seriously, explaining this (and the fact you never, ever waited four hours “on the runway”) just exhausts me.

Recently, we’ve had two big news stories, one about the tragic crash of Air Asia, in which the co-pilot was reportedly at the controls, and another yesterday about the Co-pilot at Delta who landed single-pilot when the Captain was locked out of the cockpit due to a faulty door.

While these stories are news—crashes and pilots being locked out of the cockpit— are news, yes… but

Co-pilots landing planes is not news!

It happens every day! At every airline! On about 50% of the flights!

I am a First Officer at a major airline, so I’m a bit of an expert on Co-pilots. Let’s set the record straight once and for all. We take turns flying the plane. If we have a day or a trip with two legs, each of us gets one. If we fly a trip with five legs, depending on who starts out, one of us flies three legs and the other two. I’ve even had super fair-minded Captains split a leg—with one person taking off, flying halfway and the other continuing on and landing.

Testing for Co-pilots and Captains is just about identical—with the exception of aborted takeoffs, taxiing (the tiller wheel, with much more turning radius capability than the rudders alone, is only on the Captain’s side), CAT III Autolands and a few other odds and ends. And we are held to the same testing standards.

The Captain is, however, the final authority.  The Grand Poobah.  The one in charge.  Perhaps this is where the confusion comes in. Everyone in the media, perhaps the world, therefore believes Co-pilots just sit there in their David-Clarks talking on the radio.

Until. That one magical day, when we wake up, realize “I can fly!” and morph into Captains.

I’m reminded of a joke a Captain once told me:

A Captain died in flight and word got back to Flight Operations that the Co-pilot would be landing the airplane all by himself! Well, all the pilots ran to the windows to watch. The Captains gathering on one side of the room, the Co-pilots on the other. The Co-pilot made a wonderful, safe landing and turned off the runway.

And all the Captains asked each other,  “How did that Co-pilot land that airplane all by himself?!?”

And all the Co-pilots asked each other, “ How did that Co-pilot know the Captain was dead?!?”


Happy landings, y’all.


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Filed under: Air travel, Pilot

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