An Airliner Aircrew: Personnel & Their Duties

Have you ever considered the number of people it takes to fly an aircraft and what their specific roles are? The aircrew or flight crew is the group of professionals that ensures a flight runs smoothly. Depending on the size and type of aircraft, as well as the flight length, the number of people making up the flight crew will vary.


On a commercial flight, there will always be a minimum of two pilots. The cockpit crew is extensively trained. Each pilot has undergone a specific number of flying hours before he or she became qualified and permitted to fly commercial jets. Many pilots become commercial pilots after they retire from military flight careers.

The captain– also known as the pilot in command (PIC) – usually sits on the left side of the cockpit. The captain is the highest-ranking officer of the flight crew. He or she has ultimate responsibility for the flight, including all major decisions, leading the crew, and handling passenger emergencies. Pilots are promoted to captain through experience and availability.

The first officer – also known as the co-pilot – sits to the right of the captain. The first officer is one rank lower than the captain, but is required to have the same degree of training. A second pilot is required on every flight for safety. If something were to happen to the pilot in command, the first officer is qualified to safely take over the airplane’s controls.

Second and third officers are typically found on large airliners. On long-haul flights, they provide relief for the captain and first officer during certain flight segments. The number of ‘Relief Crew’ members depends on the length of flight as well as the air regulations under which the airline operates.

The flight engineers were once referred to as the “air mechanics” during the era of early airline travel. They were responsible for the plane’s engines, fuel management and systems. Starting in the 1980s, modern technology began to render this position obsolete. These items became fully automated and monitored by the primary pilots, particularly the first officer. The system will now self-correct automatically if there is a malfunction. The captain would focus on flying while the co-pilot oversees the systems.


Flight attendants are responsible for the comfort and safety of passengers. In addition, they must ensure that passengers follow all safety guidelines. Flight Attendants are trained to handle specific emergency situations while keeping passengers calm and assisting them with exiting the plane if necessary. On commercial flights, there must be a minimum of one flight attendant per 50 passengers.

The purser – also known as the lead or senior flight attendant – is responsible for the cabin crew. On larger airplanes with multiple flight attendants, it is the purser who decides which attendants work in certain sections of the plane.