As the second in command to the captain of an aircraft, a first officer must always be ready to support his or her fellow pilot, the plane’s crew members and any passengers onboard. First officers are expected to act dependably and responsibly at all times in order to prove that they too have what it takes to be captain one day. The expectations are high, but a first officer who is able to prove their dedication and trustworthiness will often be able to move up through the ranks and become a captain. Jeff Bushnell, Col USAF (Ret), Director of Education and Aviation Standards for Coast Flight Training, recently discussed the expectations that first officers must meet in order to support their captain and prove that they are captain material. According to Bushnell, a first officer who possesses the following qualities and lives up to the following expectations should be a success.
The Top Expectations for Airline First Officers
In order to be a competent professional, the first officer must be a safe and skilled pilot above all else. This means following company procedures to the letter, possessing an excellent knowledge of the airline’s aircraft, and understanding every aspect of company and FAA regulations.
A good first officer is also expected to be someone that others enjoy being around. Regardless of what else is going on in his or her life, the first officer must be able to get along with their captain and other colleagues if they’re going to successfully work together in cramped quarters for days at a time. Being unpleasant isn’t only annoying – it could put safety at risk.
If a first officer doesn’t show respect to every member of their team, they will not gain any respect from other members of the airline’s team, including those who make decisions about promotions. First officers are expected to respect every customer, flight attendant and member of the airline personnel, regardless of rank or station.
An excellent first officer must be a highly responsible person. If anything should ever happen to the pilot, the first officer must be able to step in, take control of the situation and make the right decisions in a split second. The expectation here is that the first officer will make a prudent decision that never puts lives at risk.
Good pilots possess a pleasant personality and understand the importance of teamwork. The first officer is expected to work well with their fellow pilots, of course, but the team doesn’t end there. He or she must also work well with the maintenance personnel, gate agents and flight attendants and interact positively and personably with passengers.
The fact is that even the most skilled and qualified aircraft pilot will miss something or make at least a small mistake at some point in their career. The first officer must have the courage to speak up when their captain misses something, no matter how intimidating it may be. When lives are at stake, there is no time to stay silent.
About Jeff Bushnell
J. Jeffrey Bushnell, Col USAF (Ret), Director of Education and Aviation Standards, prepares Coast Flight Training’s students to meet the commercial aviation industry’s needs of today and tomorrow, and leads the flight school’s safety and standards. With 20,000+ flight hours under his belt, Bushnell developed Coast Flight’s extraordinary “scenario-based” (vs. maneuver-based) training syllabus, through which students learn to fly in real-life situations to different airports and through the same airspace as the airlines. Unique in the flight-training world, Coast Flight uses simulator training extensively, as do commercial airlines and the military.