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Duties of a Copilot

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Always sitting right next to their pilot, copilots, also known as flight officers, assist the captain and play a crucial role in navigating a safe ride. Duties involve a little of everything from pre-flight planning to landing the aircraft. While the main concern is making the pilot's job easier it also means maximizing the pilot's level of situational awareness. No copilot's job is simple. They show up early, obtain weather briefings and split the airplane jobs with the pilot in regards to who does the flying and who takes on the other duties such as preparing the cabin and passengers for landing, radio communications and equipment setup, for example.

Flight Planning

Before stepping onto a plane the copilot will already have assembled and mapped out a route to arrive at the destination both safely and quickly. The pilot and copilot/First Officer will have to stick to the flight plan because it has been filed with the Federal Aviation Administration. It can be filed 24 hours in advance or right up to the departure time. The pilot must, with the copilot's assistance, use the most up-to-date aeronautical charts, utilize navigational aids, maintain a constant altitude appropriate to the flight direction and estimate en route position times.

Monitor Flight Instruments

Flying an aircraft is a particularly demanding job and the captain cannot do it alone. The pilot will often instruct the copilot to monitor the flight instruments regularly. This allows the flight crew to proficiently meet all of the demands of flying by multi-tasking as a team. Altitude indicator, altimeter, airspeed indicator and horizontal situation indicator are examples of the flight instruments a copilot will be asked to monitor. The copilot will not only have to monitor but also operate flight instruments and controls.

Radio Communications

The captain/pilot will instruct a copilot to share the responsibility in keeping up communication with the FAA and Air Traffic Control. The flight crew is in charge of maintaining the flight plan route. Initial contact is a safety validation transaction and all pilots are expected to report their positions frequently. The ATC relies on the safety and effectiveness of accurate position reporting. The most important radio communication with ATC is the position report and it must include: identification, position, time, altitude, flight plan type, estimated time of arrival and the next reporting point.

Take Off to Arrival

Before a flight takes off, the copilot and pilot will have determined who flies and who takes on the other flight responsibilities. If the copilot is in charge of flying, then knowing the take off and arrival procedures is imperative. The copilot will already know the weight, balance, and if the airplane is loaded properly. Basically, the copilot will memorize the ins and outs of the craft, which is vital to the big picture in commandeering any type of aircraft from planes to helicopters.

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About the Author

Since 2008 Stefania Seccia, a Canadian professional journalist, has freelanced both online and in print for major dailies including "24 Hours," "The Province," "Vancouver Sun" and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education. She was also a "Westerly News"' reporter and her articles have appeared in the "Ottawa Citizen," "Montreal Gazette," "Victoria Times-Colonist" and others. Seccia has a journalism diploma from Langara College.