What’s the difference between a Captain and a Pilot?

Captain Adam TwidellWe’ve all heard “This is your Captain speaking” bellowing out over tannoy systems on scheduled flights (normally followed by a delay announcement), but what is the difference between a pilot and a Captain?

A pilot is a job description, and does not imply any qualification or rank.

Professional pilots have completed either a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) or a Air Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL). This differentiates them from amateur pilots who have a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL).

An aircraft must always have a nominated pilot who is in overall charge of the aircraft, this pilot is the Captain.

A newly qualified airline or private jet pilot is allocated the rank of “First Officer” then later “Senior First Officer” before they take a “Command Course” after which they can become a Captain. In the military First Officers are called “Co-pilots”.

It is a legal requirement in Europe that every chartered private jet flight must have a minimum of 2 pilots. One of the pilots will take full responsibility for the flight and be referred to as the Captain. If both pilots are Command Course qualified, one pilot will take responsibility for the flight and will be referred to as “Commander”.

My flying CV shows a sample of the progression between Pilot, First Officer and Captain:

Captain Adam Twidell
1990 – Joined Royal Air Force as a cadet pilot at University of Edinburgh, Scotland
1994 – Commissioned with Royal Air Force
1996 – Qualified as a pilot gaining RAF ‘wings’
1997 – Co-pilot flying C130 Hercules
1999 – Captain flying C130 Hercules
2004 – First Officer, NetJets, Citation XL
2005 – First Officer, Netjets, Citation XLS
2006 – Launches PrivateFly.com and continues to fly as a Citation XLS Captain