Who Gets To Fly The Plane


I am curious on how the captain and first officer share PIC time. Do they talk it out or does the airline choose who flys when?



Good question, but there is something that needs to be clarified first.

Captains conduct PIC duties. First officers conduct SIC duties. First Officers can never conduct PIC duties as they are not rated to do so until they become Captain.

Now, as far as who flies the plane, the Captain and the First Officer each have their own set of flight controls. Typically, but not always, the two pilots alternate who flies after each flight. There are no official rules that require this to occur though. Most of the time it is just the Captain’s discretion to decide.

There are a few instances, at my airline specifically, where it is required for the Captain to fly the takeoff though. For example, at KSNA (Orange County, CA), the departure procedure requires that we follow a very specific noise abatement procedure. A noise abatement procedure helps reduce the volume of airplane noise that a nearby resident may hear. Since the procedure is so complex, my company requires that only Captains fly the procedure. Again, that’s just one example.



Those are actually 2 different questions. The Capt is ALWAYS the PIC as they are the one who’s in command and is directly responsible for the safe operation of the flight.

However, that does not mean the Capt is always the one flying. At most if not all airlines the Capt and FO take turns flying.

As an interesting fact, some European airlines require the Capt to give the flying duties to the FO in the case of an emergency so the Capt can better manage and oversee the emergency. The flying is the easy part.


Thanks for the clarification along with answering Adam and Tory.


thanks for the awesome information.

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Some regionals I’ve heard use the days of the calendar to alternate to ensure the time is getting split equally. CA fly even days and FOs odd days. I’ve also heard it based on legs, off legs captain flies, even legs the FO. Obviously though, it can come down to Capt discretion to override. The system was put in place to make sure FOs are getting equal opportunity to fly, learn and grow as they are being mentored for future upgrades.


Generally we take turns flying the various flights on a trip. I generally let the First Officer pick the legs they would like to fly. If an airport is particularly challenging, I usually encourage the FO to fly that leg so that they can become familiar with that airport.