What’s the Difference Between a Captain and a Pilot?

We’ve all heard “This is your Captain speaking” bellowing out over the sound systems on commercial flights, but what is the difference between a Pilot and a Captain?

The answer is simple:

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 charge of the flight, this person is the Captain.

If you're lucky, you'll also get Fur-st Officer, Tex!

If you’re lucky, you’ll also get Fur-st Officer, Tex!

A newly qualified 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”.

What Does This Mean for Private Jet Flights?

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”. For turboprop or piston aircraft, flights can be manned by a single pilot, by default referred to as the Captain.

In the US, the rules are a little different. Turboprop aircraft and small jets may operate with a single pilot. In fact, the biggest jet that can legally fly with a single pilot is the Cessna Citation CJ4.

With PrivateFly, all our flights feature 2 captains and 2 engines, as an added safety measure.

How Can a Pilot Become a Captain?


CEO Adam Twidell’s own story shows the progression between Pilot, First Officer, and Captain:

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

For private jet charter pricing or additional questions about pilots, please contact us online or call us at (866) 726-1222.