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First Officer – Glossary Definition

First Officer – Glossary Definition

Summary:

Want the definition of a first officer? Learn the meaning of first officer, see some examples, and get a better understanding of this travel glossary term!

Wondering about the definition of a first officer? Keep reading to learn the meaning of first officer, see some examples, and get a better understanding of this travel glossary term!

first officer 3 pilot stripes on aviation uniform
A first officer wears 3 pilot stripes on their shoulder epaulettes and sleeves. Taken by Marijn Haverkamp via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

What is First Officer?

The first officer is the pilot who is second in command of the aircraft and usually sits on the right-hand seat. 

First officers are always fully qualified to operate the flight, and may “take the wheel” to allow the captain to do other things.

Though the first officer is second in command, they usually control the aircraft just as much as the pilot in command. This is especially true on medium-haul flights and long-haul flights, and then the phrasing used is “pilot flying” and “pilot not flying” (or “pilot monitoring”) to differentiate who is currently operating the controls. Even if the first officer is piloting the aircraft, however, the captain is still ultimately responsible for the flight and retains the title of pilot in command.

More on First Officers

In commercial aviation, the first officer (FO) is the second in command of the aircraft, after the captain. This first officer wears 3 pilot stripes on their airline uniform.

First officers usually sit in the right seat inside a cockpit, with the captain (pilot in charge) to their left. However, on some longer flights, particularly intercontinental flights, the first officer may move to the left seat if the PIC goes for a rest break.

In some longer flights, though rare, there may be two first officers, a senior first officer and a junior first officer. The senior FO, of course, has the title of second in command. At other times, under the first officer will be a second officer, who is third in command.

In addition to the 3 stripes on their blazer, the first officer usually also sports a qualification badge which is a pair of wings and a star.

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