Aircraft pilots control and navigate aircraft. They operate the mechanical and electrical systems of the aircraft and transport people, mail and freight.
Aircraft pilots typically perform the following duties:
- Check the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
- Ensure that the aircraft is balanced and below its weight limit
- Verify that the fuel supply is adequate and that weather conditions are acceptable
- Prepare and submit flight plans to air traffic control
- Communicate with air traffic control over the aircraft’s radio system
- Operate and control aircraft along planned routes and during takeoffs and landings
- Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight
- Respond to changing conditions, such as weather events and emergencies (for example, a mechanical malfunction)
- Navigate the aircraft by using cockpit instruments and visual references.
Aircraft pilots plan their flights by checking that the aircraft is operable and safe, that the cargo has been loaded correctly, and that weather conditions are acceptable. They file flight plans with air traffic control and may modify the plans in flight because of changing weather conditions or other factors.
Takeoff and landing can be the most demanding parts of a flight. They require close coordination among the pilot; copilot; flight engineer, if present; air traffic controllers; and ground personnel. Once in the air, the captain may have the first officer, if present, fly the aircraft, but the captain remains responsible for the aircraft. After landing, pilots fill out records that document their flight and the status of the aircraft.
Some aircraft pilots are also instructors using simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.
The following job titles also refer to aircraft pilot:
helicopter chief pilot
aircraft second officer
cargoplane first officer
aircraft first officer
Aircraft pilots assigned to long-distance routes may experience fatigue and jetlag. Weather conditions may result in turbulence, requiring pilots to change the flying altitude. Flights can be long, and flight decks are often sealed, so aircraft pilots work in small teams for long periods near one another.
Aerial applicators, also known as crop dusters, may be exposed to toxic chemicals, typically use unimproved landing strips, such as grass, dirt, or gravel surface, and may be at risk of collision with power lines. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue operations may fly at low levels during bad weather or at night and land in areas surrounded by power lines, highways, and other obstacles. Pilots use hearing protection devices to prevent their exposure to engine noise.
The high level of concentration required to fly an aircraft and the mental stress of being responsible for the safety of passengers can be fatiguing. Aircraft pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong.
Most aircraft pilots are based near large airports.
Injuries and Illnesses
Although fatalities are uncommon, commercial pilots experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.
Aircraft pilots may spend several nights a week away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers. When aircraft pilots are away from home, the airlines typically provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses.
Commercial pilots also may have irregular schedules. Although most commercial pilots remain near their homes overnight, some may still work nonstandard hours.
Aircraft pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any field, including transportation, engineering, or business. They also complete flight training with certified flight instructors or at schools that offer flight training.
Commercial pilots typically complete flight training and some employers require or prefer that they have a degree.
Aircraft pilots also must maintain their experience in performing certain maneuvers. This requirement means that aircraft pilots must perform specific maneuvers and procedures a given number of times within a specified amount of time. Aircraft pilots also must undergo periodic training and medical examinations, generally every year or every other year.
ISCO skill level
ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:
- the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
- the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
- the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.
Aircraft pilot is a Skill level 3 occupation.
Aircraft pilot career path
These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to aircraft pilot.
Long term prospects
These occupations require some skills and knowledge of aircraft pilot. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of aircraft pilot with a significant experience and/or extensive training.
Essential knowledge and skills
This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of aircraft pilot.
- Visual flight rules: Types of flight rules which are a compilation of regulations that allow pilots to fly aircrafts in clear as well as unclear weather conditions whereby it is declared that outside visual reference to the ground and other obstructions are not safe.
- Geographic areas: Know the geographic area in detail; know where different organisations carry out operations.
- Aircraft flight control systems: Know the setting, features and operation of aircraft flight control systems. Manage flight control surfaces, cockpit controls, connections, and operating mechanisms required to control the flight direction of an aircraft. Operate aircraft engine controls in order to change aircraft speed.
- Air transport law: Know air transport laws and regulations. Due to the nature of aviation, knowledge of air transport laws partially overlaps with knowledge of international law.
- Air traffic control operations: Understand the tasks performed by air traffic controllers, including Interaction and effective communication between aircraft and air traffic controllers; execution of follow-up activities, and ensuring smooth operations during flights.
- Civil aviation regulations: Know civil aviation regulations, rules and signals, including marshalling signals.
- Common aviation safety regulations: The body of legislation and regulations that apply to the field of civil aviation at regional, national, European and International levels. Understand that regulations aimed at protecting citizens at all times in civil aviation; ensure that operators, citizens, and organisations comply with these rules.
Essential skills and competences
These skills are necessary for the role of aircraft pilot.
- Operate radio equipment: Set up and operate radio devices and accessories, such as broadcast consoles, amplifiers, and microphones. Understand the basics of radio operator language and, when necessary, provide instruction in handling radio equipment correctly.
- Ensure ongoing compliance with regulations: Conduct tasks and procedures to ensure that aviation certificates maintain their validity; undertake safeguarding measures as appropriate.
- Operate radio navigation instruments: Operate radio navigation instruments to determine the position of aircraft in the airspace.
- Operate two-way radio systems: Use radios that can receive and transmit sound signals in order to communicate with similar radios on the same frequency such as mobile phones and walkie talkies.
- Read maps: Read maps effectively.
- Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
- Implement airside safety procedures: Apply a series of airfield safety rules and procedures to ensure a safe working environment for airport crew.
- Have spatial awareness: Be aware of your position and the space around you. Understand the relationship of objects around you when there is a change of position.
- Operate cockpit control panels: Operates control panels in the cockpit or flight deck according to the needs of the flight. Manage on-board electronic systems to ensure a smooth flight.
- Read 3D displays: Read 3D-displays and understand the information they provide on positions, distances, and other parameters.
- Apply signalling control procedures: Control train movements; operate railway signals and block systems to ensure that trains operate safely, on correct routes, and on time.
- Comply with air traffic control operations: Act in compliance with instruction provided by air traffic controllers.
- Perform take off and landing: Perform normal and cross-wind take-off and landing operations.
- Ensure compliance with civil aviation regulations: Ensure best practice standards are adopted and all regulatory requirements met
- Operate radar equipment: Operate radar screens and other radar equipment; ensure that aircraft fly at a safe distance from one another.
- Undertake procedures to meet aircraft flight requirements: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, guarantee that take-off mass is a maximum of 3,175 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to regulations and needs, ensure that the configuration settings are correct, and check if engines are suitable for the flight.
Optional knowledge and skills
This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of aircraft pilot. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Airport planning: Know airport planning for different types of aircrafts; use that information to mobilise resources and people in order to handle the aircrafts while they are in the airport.
- Military code: The code language used in specific intelligence or military organisations and operations, how to use and decipher them.
- Pre-flight procedures for ifr flights: Understand pre-flight duties while preparing an IFR flight; read and comprehend flight manual.
- Military aviation: The rules and regulations concerning military aviation procedures, such as military air space, aviation procedures in civilian air space, and specific military aviation equipment.
- Freight transport methods: Understand different modalities of transport such as air, sea, or intermodal freight transport. Specialise in one of the modalities and possess a deeper knowledge of the details and procedures of that modality.
- Air force operations: The operations, procedures and compliant behaviour of a military air force, and of a specific air force base.
- Aviation meteorology: Understand aviation meteorology to deal with the impact of weather on air traffic management (ATM). Understand how thorough changes in pressure and temperature values at airports can create variations in head and tail-wind components, and may impose low visibility operating conditions. Knowledge of aviation meteorology can help to reduce negative impact on the ATM system by diminishing disruption and the consequent problems of disturbed flow rates, lost capacity and induced additional costs.
- Surveillance radars: Know that Mode A/C Secondary Surveillance Radar stations continuously interrogate all aircraft within their range. Know that Mode S Secondary Surveillance Radar stations carry out interrogations of aircraft within their coverage.
- Geostationary satellites: Know about geostationary satellites and how they function; moving in the same direction as rotation of the Earth. Understand how they are used for telecommunication and commercial purposes.
Optional skills and competences
These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of aircraft pilot. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.
- Undertake procedures to meet helicopter flight requirements: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, guarantee that take-off mass is a maximum of 3,175 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to regulations and needs, ensure that the configuration setting is correct, and check if engines are suitable for the flight.
- Apply company policies: Apply the principles and rules that govern the activities and processes of an organisation.
- Communicate with customers: Respond to and communicate with customers in the most efficient and appropriate manner to enable them to access the desired products or services, or any other help they may require.
- Exert a goal-oriented leadership role towards colleagues: Embrace a leadership role in the organisation and with colleagues as to provide coaching and direction to subordinates aiming at the achievement of specific objectives.
- Ensure efficient communication in air traffic services: Ensure the implementation of an efficient communication exchange in air traffic services (ATS) involving airport movement areas. Follow procedures within the network.
- Follow ethical code of conduct in transport services: Carry out transport services according to accepted principles of right and wrong. This includes principles of fairness, transparency, and impartiality.
- Use meteorological information: Use and interpret meteorological information for operations dependent on climatic conditions. Use this information to provide advise on safe operations in relation to weather conditions.
- Perform risk analysis: Identify and assess factors that may jeopardise the success of a project or threaten the organisation’s functioning. Implement procedures to avoid or minimise their impact.
- Give instructions to staff: Give instructions to subordinates by employing various communication techniques. Adjust communication style to the target audience in order to convey instructions as intended.
- Possess visual literacy: Interpret charts, maps, graphics, and other pictorial presentations used in place of the written word. The graphics used vary from process to process; therefore, the professional must have sufficient knowledge of the field in order to follow and use the information presented.
- Maintain relationship with customers: Build a lasting and meaningful relationship with customers in order to ensure satisfaction and fidelity by providing accurate and friendly advice and support, by delivering quality products and services and by supplying after-sales information and service.
- Act reliably: Proceed in a way that one can be relied on or depended on.
- Handle customer complaints: Administer complaints and negative feedback from customers in order to address concerns and where applicable provide a quick service recovery.
- Deal with challenging work conditions: Deal with challenging circumstances in which to perform work, such as night work, shift work, and atypical working conditions.
- Execute flight plans: Listen to the briefing given by the captain or the crew manager; understand service requirements and apply the commissioned tasks in an appropriate manner.
- Keep task records: Organise and classify records of prepared reports and correspondence related to the performed work and progress records of tasks.
- Ensure public safety and security: Implement the relevant procedures, strategies and use the proper equipment to promote local or national security activities for the protection of data, people, institutions, and property.
- Carry out navigational calculations: Solve mathematical problems to achieve safe navigation.
- Address aircraft mechanical issues: Identify and resolve mechanical issues which arise during flight; identify malfunctions in fuel gauges, pressure indicators and other electrical, mechanical or hydraulic components.
- Work in an aviation team: Work confidently in a group in general aviation services, in which each individual operates in their own area of responsibility to reach a common goal, such as a good customer interaction, air safety, and aircraft maintenance.
- Adapt to changing situations: Change approach to situations based on unexpected and sudden changes in people’s needs and mood or in trends; shift strategies, improvise and naturally adapt to those circumstances.
- Follow airport safety procedures: Comply with airport safety procedures, policies and legislation to ensure a safe working environment for all employees, and to ensure the safety of passengers.
- Ensure smooth on board operations: Ensure the trip goes smoothly and without incidents. Before departure review if all security, catering, navigation and communication elements are in place.
- Apply air force procedures: Apply the procedures present in a military air force and on a specific base and being compliant with all the regulations and policies.
- Undertake procedures to meet requirements for flying aircraft heavier than 5,700 kg: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, validate that take-off mass is a minimum of 5,700 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to flight needs and regulations, ensure that the configuration settings are correct, and check if the engines are suitable for the flight.
- Make independent operating decisions: Make immediate operating decisions as necessary without reference to others, taking into account the circumstances and any relevant procedures and legislation. Determine alone which option is the best for a particular situation.
- Perform flight manoeuvres: Perform flight manoeuvres in critical situations, and associated ‘upset’ manoeuvres, in order to avoid collision.
- Ensure compliance with types of weapons: Use different kinds of firearms and other types of weapons and their matching ammunition, in compliance with legal requirements.
- Apply transportation management concepts: Apply transport industry management concepts in order to improve transportation processes, reduce waste, increase efficiency, and improve schedule preparation.
- Manage financial risk: Predict and manage financial risks, and identify procedures to avoid or minimise their impact.
- Organise aircraft maintenance: Organise arrangements for aircraft maintenance and repair activities; communicate with engineering centres.
- Maintain counterweight inside modes of transport: Maintain balance and mass distribution inside the means of transport (vessel, aircraft, train, road vehicles, etc). Ensure that passengers and cargo distribution do not hinder the mobility of the mode of transport.
- Apply military aviation regulations: Apply the procedures and regulations present in military aviation operations and missions, ensuring compliance with policies, safety and security.
- Write work-related reports: Compose work-related reports that support effective relationship management and a high standard of documentation and record keeping. Write and present results and conclusions in a clear and intelligible way so they are comprehensible to a non-expert audience.
- Identify airport safety hazards: Spot threats related to security at the airport and apply procedures to counteract them in a quick, safe, and efficient way.
- Supervise crew: Supervise and observe the behaviour of employees.
- Respond to changing navigation circumstances: Respond decisively and in sufficient time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations while navigating.
- Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
- Identify security threats: Identify security threats during investigations, inspections, or patrols, and perform the necessary actions to minimise or neutralise the threat.
- Perform search and rescue missions: Assist in fighting natural and civic disasters, such as forest fires, floods and road accidents. Conduct search-and-rescue missions.
- Apply airport standards and regulations: Know and apply the accepted standards and regulations for European airports. Apply knowledge to enforce airport rules, regulations, and the Airport Safety Plan.
- Handle stressful situations: Deal with and manage highly stressful situations in the workplace by following adequate procedures, communicating in a quiet and effective manner, and remaining level-headed when taking decisions.
- Run preventive simulations: Run preventive audits or simulations with new signalling systems; assess operability and detect flaws for improvement.
- Ensure aircraft compliance with regulation: Ensure that every aircraft complies with applicable regulation and all components and equipment have officially valid components.
- Comprehensively inspect aircraft: Conduct inspections of aircraft and aircraft components, namely their parts, appliances, and equipment, to identify malfunctions such as fuel leaks or flaws in electrical and pressurisation systems.
- Respond to customers’ inquiries: Answer customers’ questions about itineraries, rates and reservations in person, by mail, by e-mail and on the phone.
- Have computer literacy: Utilise computers, IT equipment and modern day technology in an efficient way.
- Tolerate stress: Maintain a temperate mental state and effective performance under pressure or adverse circumstances.
- Comply with checklists: Follow checklists and ensure compliance with all the items included in them.
- Be friendly to passengers: Engage with passengers according to the expectations of contemporary social behaviour, the specific situation, and the code of conduct of the organisation. Communicate in a polite and clear way.
- Prepare transportation routes: Prepare routes by chosing the best possible way and foresee adjustments in case of need, by providing additional running time or adapting capacity and timing in response to changes in circumstances, thereby ensuring an efficient use of resources and achievement of customer relations goals.
- Patrol areas: Patrol a designated area, watch out for and respond to suspicious and dangerous situations, and communicate with emergency response organisations.
- Create a flight plan: Develop a flight plan which details the flight altitude, route to be followed and the amount of fuel required using different sources of information (weather reports and other data from air traffic control).
- Perform routine flight operations checks: Perform checks before and during flight: conduct pre-flight and in-flight inspections of aircraft performance, route and fuel usage, runway availability, airspace restrictions, etc.
- Follow verbal instructions: Have the ability to follow spoken instructions received from colleagues. Strive to understand and clarify what is being requested.
- Communicate in english in a competent way: Competent use of English; R351refers to level C1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
- Analyse work-related written reports: Read and comprehend job-related reports, analyse the content of reports and apply findings to daily work operations.
ISCO group and title
3153 – Aircraft pilots and related associate professionals
- Aircraft pilot – ESCO
- Airline and Commercial Pilots Pilots : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Featured image: Photo by Daniel Eledut on Unsplash