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Fighter pilot during a training flight
Workplace of the pilots in an Airbus A380

A pilot ( French pilote , of Italian pilota , older form pedotta "helmsman" to ancient Greek πηδόν Pedon , German , Rudder ' ) is a person that one aircraft controls or is authorized to do so. In official parlance, he is therefore often referred to as an aircraft pilot. Sometimes the term “pilot” is also used figuratively for drivers of other vehicles to express their professionalism.


Pilots and pilots can be categorized under different aspects:

Responsible pilot

Rights and obligations

Balloon driver as the responsible pilot with passengers

A responsible pilot , English pilot in command PIC , (also flight captain or commander ) is the pilot who is designated by the owner of the aircraft for this purpose. Requirements for this are a valid flight license and necessary flight experience, an additional type rating , medical certificate and radiotelephone certificate . He is responsible for the safe conduct of the flight and is the owner of the so-called on- board violence , § 12 Aviation Security Act (LuftSiG) , internationally regulated in the Tokyo Agreement . He is therefore authorized to issue instructions to everyone on board, including flight safety attendants , and can enforce his instructions with force if necessary, e.g. B. Restraint of passengers or passengers. Commercial aircraft are usually flown by at least two pilots or, in the case of long-haul flights, with several crews. Regardless of this, there is always only one responsible pilot on board.

Responsible pilot under supervision

The responsible pilot under supervision ( English Pilot in Command under Supervision PICUS ) is a pilot who, under the supervision of the responsible pilot, carries out the tasks and functions of a responsible pilot without the responsible pilot intervening.

Responsible pilot in training

The responsible pilot in training ( English Student Pilot-in-Command SPIC ) is a student pilot who acts as the pilot in command on a flight with a flight instructor , whereby the flight instructor only observes the student pilot and has no influence on the flight.

Private pilot

Flying as a leisure activity

Private pilots fly aircraft in non-commercial operations and air sports equipment , mostly as a leisure activity and with a few exceptions, such as. B. Flight instructor for air sports equipment in Europe, receive no payment. This means that any transport of passengers against payment is prohibited. There are a number of different licenses that allow private flying. Depending on the corresponding authorizations, there are no size or weight restrictions for private pilots on the aircraft they fly. Private pilots do not wear uniform .

The only license for the private sector that is valid worldwide is the private pilot license according to the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It allows worldwide non-commercial operation of aircraft of various categories and classes on aircraft of the state of the issuing authority. To this day, it has represented the entry-level license for most aircraft classes and is usually a prerequisite for acquiring a professional pilot's license.

Professional pilot

Two pilots in the cockpit of a passenger plane.
Left: captain, right: first officer

While pilots were pioneers in the early days of aviation , the profession of pilot emerged with the first commercial flights . Nowadays one distinguishes professional pilots that are commercially active in the aerospace and airline pilots , mostly with airlines fly. For commercial flights with aircraft up to 5.7 tons MTOW , which can be flown by a single pilot who is a commercial pilot license (commercial pilot license, CPL) required. In contrast, pilot in command for commercial operation need of aircraft, whose operation requires a multi-headed crew is required or their take-off weight with 5.7 t MTOW is, the traffic pilot license (ATPL) or the multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL). For co-pilots, a commercial pilot license with a theory test of the ATPL and additional practical training (frozen ATPL) is sufficient. A total of around 19,000 people in Germany had an ATPL or MPL license in 2017.

For aircraft except for aircraft, training is carried out in stages. After receiving the private pilot's license, the professional pilot's license with instrument flight authorization is acquired. There is training on multi-engine machines, for aircraft with several people in the cockpit and a type rating. After this training, you start your career as a co-pilot in order to pass the test to become a commercial pilot after having acquired the required flight hours in order to be able to work as a responsible pilot. Commercial pilots with this training are entitled to exercise the rights of the subordinate licenses.

Since 2008, training for a multi-crew pilot license has been offered at commercial flight schools. The training is aimed directly at the use as a co-pilot in a transport machine with a multi-crew cockpit. Other pilot licenses are no longer obtained, and solo flights during training are not provided. If these pilots are authorized to become commercial pilots after the required flight time, they are not authorized to fly aircraft in solo flight and to exercise the rights of commercial or private pilots. It is therefore criticized that this training is tailored to work in large airlines and restricts the job market for pilots. Due to the limited license, the pilot is therefore not suitable for alternative commercial activities in aviation, such as B. a job as a pilot in general aviation .

Cockpit crew

If several people are required to operate the aircraft , they work together:

  • The flight captain or commanding officer ( English captain, CPT ) is the responsible pilot of a commercial aircraft ( Pilot In Command , PIC ), who is responsible for the coordination in the cockpit as well as the safety of the aircraft and occupants and has the authority to make decisions and give instructions at all times Has. However, he does not have to take control of the entire flight time; usually this is alternated with the first officers (see below) during the flight. The person who is currently in control (i.e. takes off, lands and changes direction or altitude) is called Pilot Flying (PF) , while the other is called Pilot Not Flying (PNF), or during a monitoring activity (e.g. with a flight instructor ) Pilot Monitoring (PM) .
  • Check captains are responsible for the training and further education of flight personnel including practice.
  • The first officer ( English First Officer, FO ), also called copilot or copilot, supports and represents the flight captain. He also performs flights independently, but does not have the authority on board.
  • For some airlines, the career of the co-pilot as begins Second Officer ( English Second Officer, SO ). Depending on the airline's training model, the activity either does not differ from that of the first officer, or the second officer initially works on long-haul flights as a Cruise Relief Copilot (CRC) who only sits at the wheel during the cruise.
  • The Senior First Officer (SFO) is a special form of the first officer and is authorized to relieve the captain during the cruise (as such then Pilot In Command Relief, PICR ). Most scheduled airlines use an SFO from a route length of approximately 7500 km .
  • The flight engineer ( English Flight Engineer, FE ) does not control the aircraft, but uses its technical systems. In the past, this even included engine / thrust / power control and fuel system control via its own controller. Flight engineers today only work on older types of aircraft with a three-man cockpit, while modern long-haul aircraft today are equipped with partially automated two-man cockpits in which only the two pilots are active.

In the past, a radio operator and a navigator were often part of the crew. These were replaced from the 1960s by the expansion of radio communications and the introduction of automatic navigation systems such as INS .

Rank badge of the cockpit crew

The following rank badges are chosen using the example of Lufthansa - they can differ from airline to airline, or can be supplemented by further ranks.

designation abbreviation Functions Badge of rank
Captain CPT Captain / Commander (PIC)

(Responsible for safety, has the authority to make decisions and give instructions [pilot in command])

Aircraft Crew Cpt.jpg
Senior First Officer SFO Copilot / PICR

( Replaces the captain during his rest break (PICR) on ultra long distances; he then sits in the left seat)

Aircraft crew SFO.jpg
First officer FO co-pilot
Aircraft crew FO.jpg
Second officer SO Copilot in training as first mate

(is monitored by a training captain)

Cruise Relief Copilot CRC Co-pilot in cruise

(only sits behind the wheel while cruising)

Aircraft crew FE.jpg
Flight engineer FE Flight engineer; operates the aircraft's systems (today only available on older aircraft types, otherwise the pilots take over this work)
Beverly Burns, the world's first female pilot of a Boeing 747 (1985)

Organization of working hours

In October 2009, the Cockpit Association criticized the working hours of pilots as unsatisfactory and as a threat to passenger safety. With reference to a study commissioned by the EU (Moebus Report), she stated that the EU's rules on flight times and rest periods favor dangerous overtiredness and exhaustion.

The assumption that a career as a pilot is not compatible with family and career is a major reason for the low proportion of women among pilots and applicants for this career, with girls also showing less interest in technical professions . In view of the staff shortage, the airline Lufthansa implemented a program (which has since been discontinued) in 2000, which enabled job sharing for pilots with young children as well as part-time work and was also open to flight captains.

Aviation medical fitness

Form Germany medical certificate

The basic requirement for flight training and the activity as a pilot is fitness to fly. The international guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) divide medical fitness into three classes;

In the area of ​​the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) there is another class of fitness, which is only valid in the member states of EASA: the certificate of fitness for pilots of light aircraft (LAPL) . In addition, there are national licenses, e.g. B. The Sport Pilot Certificate in the United States, which does not require a medical examination.

The AME is after the Aeromedical fitness before the medical certificate ( English medical certificate ) from which is to be carried by the pilot. It is the responsibility of the pilot to check whether he is fit to fly before starting the flight. If he has any doubts as to whether he is fit to fly, he is not allowed to take the flight. In the event of serious illnesses, accidents and surgical interventions, he is automatically unfit to fly and may only resume piloting after he has recovered and has been consulted and approved by the flight doctor.

Flight training

The flight training for ICAO recognized licenses is generally regulated by the convention of the International Civil Aviation Organization . In the European Union , training is regulated in detail by Regulation (EU) No. 1178/2011 (EU-FCL) and takes place in a flight school , e.g. B. in an air sports club or at a commercial aviation school . As part of the training, a radiotelephone certificate (AZF, BZF 1, BZF 2) is usually acquired, which entitles the pilot to carry out radiotelephony and to use radio navigation equipment. The radiotelephone training can also be an integral part of the pilot's training without a radiotelephone certificate being issued.

Basically there are two different types of flight schools in the EASA member states :

  • Approved training organization ( English Approved Training Organization ) ATO, which go through an extensive approval process and operate all types of aircraft, especially professional and commercial pilots, e.g. B. Commercial Aviation Schools .
  • Declared training organization ( English Declared Training Organization ) DTO, which are allowed to train up to a private pilot license and only in visual flight . The small flight schools of the aviation clubs are named here as an example .

After completing the training, the pilot can take further training steps that enable him to use larger and more complex patterns, the so-called ratings . As an an example:

  • Operating multi-engine aircraft (multi-engine rating)
  • Airplanes with jet engines

Furthermore, further training to get further authorizations, e.g. B.

To be allowed to larger and more complex aircraft flying is related to the particular aircraft type rating to buy.

To fly a plane with several crew members, a special education for the training of communication and coordination between members of the cockpit crew (is English multi-crew-cooperation MCC ) is required.

Military training

Student pilots in military aviation are mostly prospective officers , less often NCOs who are undergoing flight training. In most cases, before the actual start of the training, a general and aviation selection process takes place, in which it is to be ensured that only well-suited candidates go through the tightly organized and highly demanding aviation training.

Flight license

ICAO compliant

Commercial pilot license
EASA glider license

The International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO ensures an internationally uniform handling of the most diverse practical aspects of aviation, including licenses. According to the guidelines of the ICAO, the following licenses are issued by the responsible aviation authority after completion of the respective flight training and the passing of a theoretical and practical examination:

  • Private pilot license, PPL English Private Pilot License
  • Commercial pilot license, CPL from English Commercial Pilot License
  • Multi-Crew Pilot License, MPL permits use as a co-pilot in scheduled flights with a flight captain as the pilot in charge
  • Commercial pilot license | License for commercial pilots , ATPL (from English Air Transport Pilot License )

With these licenses an aircraft of the issuing country of the license may be operated worldwide. A conversion into the equivalent pilot license of another country is usually possible in a simplified procedure. The ICAO-compliant licenses are issued for aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, airships, free balloons, gliders and aircraft with vertical take-off and landing capabilities.

National pilot license

Aviation license for air sports equipment operators

Many states and also the European Union have additional licenses for pilots in their own jurisdiction. These licenses are mostly only valid in the countries issued and can only be used in other countries on the basis of binational agreements or exchanged for equivalent licenses in other countries:

  • European Union light aircraft pilot license
  • Aviation license for air sports equipment operators, SPL (from English Sport Pilot License from Germany)
  • Ultralight certificate, the Austrian permit for ultralight pilots
  • Student Pilot Certificate , Sport Pilot Certificate, and Recreational Pilot Certificate as special licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States

The pilot has to carry the flight license with him during the flight.

See also


  • Andreas Fecker: Pilots: Behind the scenes of air traffic . 1st edition. Bruckmann, 2003, ISBN 978-3-7654-7222-0 .
  • Care in choosing a career . In: Aero International . Issue 1 (2016), December 10, 2015, ISSN  0946-0802 , p. 22-23 .
  • The right licenses CPL, ATPL or MPL for everyone. Getting a pilot license is time-consuming and costly. Reason enough to think carefully beforehand which of the authorizations you will choose . In: Aero International . Issue 12 (2016), November 9, 2016, ISSN  0946-0802 , p. 46 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Pilot  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Pilots  - collection of images, videos and audio files
  • Pilot training
    • Open-PPL  - free and free website with the official exam questions for the pilot exam

Individual evidence

  1. Duden online: Pilot. Retrieved September 13, 2019 .
  2. a b c d e Appendices to the Convention of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Appendix 1: Personnel Licensing.
  3. Agreement on criminal offenses and certain other acts committed on board aircraft of September 14, 1963, published in Federal Law Gazette 1969 II p. 121.
  4. a b c VO (EU) 1178/2011 FCL.10
  5. Luftfahrtbundesamt: Licenses for pilots in Germany. Retrieved September 13, 2019 .
  6. Luftfahrtbundesamt ( Federal Aviation Office): Licenses available at the LBA for pilots by license type. March 1, 2019, accessed September 13, 2019 .
  7. Federal Employment Agency : Career information - Check captain. Retrieved September 13, 2019 .
  8. Alexander Wendt: Looking for climbers. Focus No. 12, 2000, accessed March 30, 2015 .
  9. Guido Heisner, dpa: Women are only gradually conquering the cockpit of the male bastion. In: Focus Online . September 5, 2009, accessed March 30, 2015 .
  10. VO (EU) 1178/2011 MED.A.020
  11. VO (EU) 1178/2011
  12. Less bureaucracy for flight schools, DTO rules have come into force. aerokurier, September 13, 2018, accessed September 25, 2019 .