Pilots typically do the following:
- Check the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
- Ensure that the aircraft is balanced and below its weight limit
- Ensure fuel supply is adequate, weather conditions are acceptable, and submit flight plans to air traffic control
- Communicate with air traffic control over the aircraft’s radio system
- Operate and control aircraft along planned routes, and during takeoffs, and landings
- Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight and respond to any changes in weather or other events, such as engine failure
- Navigate the aircraft by using cockpit instruments and visual references
Most aircrafts use two pilots. The most experienced pilot, the captain or pilot in command, 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 must 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 the aircraft is operable and safe, that the cargo has been loaded correctly, and that the weather conditions are acceptable. They file flight plans with air traffic control that they may modify in flight because of weather conditions or other factors.
Takeoffs and landings can be the most difficult parts of the flight and require close coordination between the pilot, copilot, and flight engineer, if present. Once in the air, the captain and first officer usually alternate flying activities so each can 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 will often need to greet their passengers before embarking. Some airline pilots may have to help handle customer complaints.
Commercial pilots employed by charter companies usually have many more nonflight duties than airline pilots have. Commercial pilots may have to schedule flights, arrange for maintenance of the plane, and load luggage themselves.
Pilots who routinely fly at low levels must constantly look for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other dangerous obstacles. This is 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 sites.
The following are examples of types of pilots:
Airline pilots are commercial pilots who primarily work for airlines that transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule.
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.