Pilots typically do the following:
Many aircraft use two pilots. The captain or pilot in command, usually the most experienced pilot, supervises all other crew members and has primary responsibility for the flight. The copilot, often called the first officer or second in command, shares flight duties with the captain. Some older planes require a third pilot known as a flight engineer, who monitors instruments and operates controls. New technology has automated many of these tasks, and new aircraft do not require flight engineers.
Pilots must have good teamwork skills because they work closely with other pilots on the flight deck, as well as with air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers. They need to be able to coordinate actions and provide clear and honest feedback.
Pilots plan their flights carefully by making sure 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 difficult parts of a flight and require close coordination among the pilot, copilot, flight engineer, if present, and ground personnel. Once in the air, the captain and first officer usually alternate flying activities so that each can maintain their flying skills, as well as get rest. After landing, pilots must fill out records that document their flight and the status of the aircraft.
Many pilots will have some contact with passengers and customers. Charter and corporate pilots often will need to greet their passengers before embarking on the flight. Some airline pilots may have to help handle customer complaints.
Commercial pilots may have many more nonflight duties than airline pilots have. Commercial pilots may have to schedule flights, arrange for maintenance of the aircraft, and load luggage themselves. Agricultural pilots typically have to handle agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides, and may be involved in other agricultural practices in addition to flying. Flight instructors may need to spend time recruiting students or teaching ground school.
Pilots who routinely fly at low levels must constantly look for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other dangerous obstacles. These obstacles present a common danger to agricultural pilots and air ambulance helicopter pilots, who frequently land on or near highways and accident sites that do not have improved landing strips.
The following are examples of types of pilots:
Airline pilots are commercial pilots who work primarily for airlines that transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule.
Corporate pilots fly for companies that own a fleet of planes to transport passengers such as company executives.
Commercial pilots are involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, aerial photography, and aerial tours.
Flight instructors are commercial pilots who use simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.
With proper training, airline pilots may also be deputized as federal law enforcement officers and be issued firearms to protect the cockpit.