Airline Pilot Positions
The three positions in the airline piloting profession include captain, first officer (co-pilot), and second officer (flight engineer). In Canada, the second officer and flight engineer are separate certificates; the second officer may hold a flight engineer rating, but a flight engineer is not necessarily a pilot. Not all aircraft operated by the airlines require a second officer; in fact, all new aircraft now are designed to be flown with a captain and first officer sharing all the duties.

Each pilot position requires a pilot certificate and a currently valid medical certificate issued by the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, or by Transport Canada (TC).

Ever wonder what a real trip is like for an airline pilot? Join the ACE Club today, where you can virtually shadow an ALPA pilot during his or her typical work day. “A Day in the Life of Flying the Line” will feature several pilots from different airline piloting profession sectors including cargo, regional, and major airlines.

Airline pilots work together as a crew. Most commonly, you can find two pilots on the flight deck during flight; however, on some larger aircraft there may also be a third required crewmember (second officer or flight engineer), who assists in monitoring and operating several of the aircraft systems. There are also Flight Attendants that provide passengers with evacuation instructions in the event of an emergency, as well as customer service during the flight.

At most airlines, a pilot moves into the captain's position—the highest rank of ultimate authority and responsibility—through experience. Experience is vital because no two flights are alike, and the manner in which a particular flight is conducted will depend on many factors. These may include: weather on departure, en route, and at the destination; available navigation aids and air traffic control; aircraft loading; airline and regulatory requirements; and, of course, passenger comfort. Only experience prepares a crew for how to handle these varying—and sometimes conflicting—factors safely and effectively.

Pay & Benefits
Most airline pilots begin their careers at around $20,000 annually. This increases gradually each year until the pilot accumulates the experience and seniority to upgrade to captain. The average captain at a regional airline earns a salary of around $55,000 (at an ALPA Regional), while the average captain at a major airline earns a salary of around $135,000 (at an ALPA Major). Most airlines also provide health, vision, loss of license, and life insurance coverage.

The most obvious benefit of serving as an airline pilot is the flying. Any pilot can attest to the joy of commanding an aircraft and assuming the responsibility for, and the challenge of, operating a multi-million dollar aircraft with the trust of its passengers. The love of flying keeps the weathered days sunny. If this seems like a match for your career goals, your aspirations, and your sense of adventure, then begin your journey and start training.

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Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l, 1625 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036 (703) 689-2270