An aviation safety article



Last Updated: 8 March 2008

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In order to develop an insight into the Profession of Airline Pilot, it is important to realise that a professional pilot's primary task is to fly the aircraft under his command from the departure airport to destination safely. This fact cannot be over emphasised. After this primary objective has been addressed, the myriad of other important considerations such as operating the aircraft economically, on time, smoothly, quickly, efficiently etc can then be tackled. But unless the aircraft is operated safely it ultimately cannot be any of the latter. The fact is, airlines that do not operate their aircraft as safely as possible eventually 'lose' aircraft and airlines that lose aircraft do not usually survive in the market place and as such are not viable.

As with any form of human endeavour, the ability of pilots to perform this primary task competently is a complex distillation of many diverse and often competing factors. Some of these factors include:

  1. That the pilots employed by an airline be of high calibre in that they possess a competent standard of basic aeronautical skills. These skills include basic flying ability (manipulative skill) and cockpit management skills which are fundamental to effective crew co-ordination and a safe decision making process.

  2. That pilots are prepared to exercise these aeronautical skills in a responsible (professional) manner and as such display what is known in the profession as 'good airmanship'. In order for this to occur professional pilots must possess two character traits:-
  3. That pilots are able to operate in an employment environment where they receive the active support of senior airline management for such things as proper aircrew training, safe operating procedures and the pilots' operational decision making process. In other words, active management support of their pilots' ability to operate their aircraft in a professional (safe) manner. For this to take place, the authority pertaining to the position of 'Pilot in Command' must be recognised and actively supported by airline management.

  4. But fundamental to a safe airline operation is a system that ensures that pilots are able to exercise their professional skills free of commercial pressures. In summary, a system that enshrines basic pilot rights within an employment contract and as such ensures 'pilot independence'.

These qualities combined together begin to define the position of 'Professional Pilot' and the authority and responsibilities of the 'Pilot in Command' of an aircraft.

All these factors are crucial to a safe airline operation because the 'Pilot in Command' (PIC) of an aircraft is in a unique position. Not only is he the only person aware of all the factors and operational constraints pertaining to his particular flight, but ultimately he is the only person on location qualified to deal in a safe manner with the myriad of problems that invariably arise throughout the course of a flight. To summarise, the Pilot in Command of an aircraft is the only person capable of managing his particular flight and as such his primary role in an airline is as the manager of his particular flight.

To quote an address to pilots from the former President of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, Captain Dick Holt (deceased), who said of the Position of Airline Pilot:

"Through his seat at the front of the aircraft flow the efforts of thousands of people who provide the means by which he carries out his task. However, it is an undeniable fact that:

These responsibilities are recognised in the definition of his title of "Captain", which means "in command" and as such legally the final responsibility for the safety of the aircraft rests solely with the pilot in command. 3

It is these professional responsibilities that not only make pilots "Sui Generis", but also worth every cent of their pay and conditions. 4

In a sense, pilots are the stewards of an airline's three most valuable assets; its passengers, its aircraft (worth up to $200+ million each) and the public's confidence in the corporate identity of the airline. As such, unpalatable though it might be to some airline managers and civic leaders who think "pilots are just glorified bus drivers", the most important people in any successful airline are its pilots, for on their backs rides the very survival of the airline.

NOTE: This article is an extract from 'A Pilots Perspective of the Australian Pilots' Dispute 1989' by Alex Paterson.


1. DEFINITIONS: Source: Oxford Dictionary (1991)


2. It is the core ethic of the profession of airline pilot that the operational decisions of the pilot in command must always err on the side of safety. This ethic defines of the concept of 'GOOD AIRMANSHIP'.


3. Pilot in Command

Australian Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs) 1988

The legal position of the pilot in command of an aircraft is defined under Australian Civil Aviation Regulation (CAR) 224 which states that:
"the pilot in command shall have final authority as to the disposition of the aircraft." (Source: CAR 224 - section 3)

CAR 224: Pilot in command

(1) For each flight the operator shall designate one pilot to act as pilot in command.
Penalty: 5 penalty units.

(1A) An offence against subregulation (1) is an offence of strict liability.
Note For strict liability, see section 6.1 of the Criminal Code.

(2) A pilot in command of an aircraft is responsible for:

(a) the start, continuation, diversion and end of a flight by the aircraft; and
(b) the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time; and
(c) the safety of persons and cargo carried on the aircraft; and
(d) the conduct and safety of members of the crew on the aircraft.

(2A) A pilot in command must discharge his or her responsibility under paragraph (2) (a) in accordance with:

(a) any information, instructions or directions, relating to the start, continuation, diversion or
end of a flight, that are made available, or issued, under the Act or these Regulations; and
(b) if applicable, the operations manual provided by the operator of the aircraft.

(3) The pilot in command shall have final authority as to the disposition of the aircraft while
he or she is in command and for the maintenance of discipline by all persons on board.

CAR 224 is the Australian Civil Aviation rendition of the ICAO convention regarding the authority and responsibilities of Pilot in Command.

International Civil Aviation Convention (ICAO) Document 9376 regarding Pilot in Command states in chapter 6:

6.2.1 "The Pilot in Command is responsible for operating an aeroplane in accordance with rules of the air, and has final authority as to the disposition of the aeroplane while in command." (Source: ICAO Doc 9376, section 6.2.1)

See also:

Wikipedia Article 'Pilot-in-Command'


4. The title "Sui Generis" , which means "of one's own kind" or unique, was used to describe the position of Airline Pilot during a 1954 Arbitration Court decision.


Copyright Alex Paterson 1999




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Alex PATERSON is an Australian airline pilot. He writes articles and advises on issues pertaining to aviation, politics, sociology, the environment, sustainable farming, history, computers, natural health therapies and spirituality.

He can be contacted at:

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The document, 'The Profession of Airline Pilot' is the copyright of the author, Alex Paterson. All rights reserved by the author. Not withstanding this, the document may be reproduced and disseminated without the express permission of the author so long as reference to the author is made, no alterations are made to the document and no money is charged for it.

Additional keywords: aircraft crash, aviation safety, airline safety, CAR 224