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

We’ve all heard “This is your Captain speaking” booming out over tannoy systems on airline flights, but what is the difference between a pilot and a Captain?

Pilot cockpit at night

What is a pilot?

A pilot is a job description, and does not imply any qualification or rank. (Find out more about pilots and their jobs in our recent PrivateFly Pilot Survey).

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).

Captains & First Officers

An aircraft must always have a nominated senior 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 can become a Senior First Officer, before they take a Command Course – which if successfully-completed means they can become a Captain. In the military First Officers are called Co-pilots.

Commercially-chartered private jet flights in Europe and the US are operated by two pilots. One 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
2008 – Launched PrivateFly.com and continued to fly as a Citation XLS Captain

Want to read more articles like this from PrivateFly? Sign-up for our email newsletter for the latest updates.

Sign up for email news