The absence of a specific licensing requirement for the command of a multi-crew commercial aircraft is one of those things the aviation world has always taken for granted. An air transport pilot licence with a type rating allows the pilot to fly a multi-crew aircraft either as commander or co-pilot.
Conventional wisdom suggests commanding a crew requires the exercise of expertise and qualities a co-pilot would not necessarily have, so why does this loophole in the licensing system still exist?
Most good airlines provide their co-pilots with some kind of command preparation before promoting them. But even the good carriers usually consider pilots for command when their position on the seniority ladder puts them next in line for the left-hand seat, so this is scarcely a meritocracy.
At a time when the whole pilot licensing system is at the threshold of major change, it is right that this anomaly should be examined. The International Civil Aviation Organisation is already leading the change from subjective pilot performance assessment before awarding a licence to providing comprehensive descriptions of required competencies, so it looks even more odd that there is no description of the competencies required of an aircraft commander. Fortunately, ICAO and the European Aviation Safety Agency are preparing to change all that.
(This first appeared as the second leading article in Flight International 27 March)