reducing "Crew-caused"
approach and landing

Pilot-in-charge Monitored Approach

Who's who? What flight crew titles mean.

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone “it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.” - Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking-Glass (1872)"

For a meaningful discussion of PicMA is necessary to clarify some elementary terminology issues. In the airline industry there are basic words which are often assumed to have a common meaning, when in fact there are subtle but very significant differences in interpretation that depend on the speaker’s or writer’s personal background, and that of the listener or reader.

You might expect that the terms “Captain”, “Pilot”, or “Pilot Flying (PF)”, and “First Officer”, “Co-pilot”, "Pilot not Flying (PNF)”, or "Pilot Monitoring (PM)" to have common meanings across all airlines. Sometimes they do but sometimes they don't; and exactly when the meaning changes varies enormously within the industry. This is very well illustrated in the context of a single country (the USA) by this document ; globally of course there are many other combinations.  

The use of "in-charge" in the PicMA title is intended to show that it applies however an airline uses the other terms. 

Legislation puts ultimate responsibility for a flight on the shoulders of the Aircraft COMMANDER, and nothing on this page contradicts that.  But for practical reasons it is very rare for specific duties during flight to be assigned to the Commander: it is almost always "Captain" or "Pilot", as discussed here.  

Commander carries legal responsibility. Captain is a Rank, which relates to a pilot's status as an employee, and on rare occasions a First Officer may be the Commander.

Also of course, two individuals who both hold the rank of Captain may be paired together, in which case one will clearly be denoted as the aircraft Commander. But these occasions are relatively rare and do not affect the general case for which SOPs are written, where a crew consists of a Captain in command and a First Officer as co-pilot.  

Some airlines mix crew rank, role and function almost indiscriminately in their documentation. Some of it may originate in-house while some is taken verbatim from other industry sources, and the wording of their SOPs may generate a basic assumption that “Captain = pilot in charge = pilot flying".

Internal inconsistencies often occur, and this also affects the way that “First Officers’ sectors” are dealt with.  An airline might say that its policy is "we train Captains and First Officers to equal standards; we equalize skills by “leg and leg” flying, and the F/O does “all the Captain’s tasks during his leg” -  but then it places restrictions on some critical areas, such as “however only the Captain may abort a takeoff”.

The result is that the use of these terms actually differs between airlines, but most individual pilots tend to assume that their own (and their airline’s) use of the terms is in fact also that used by everyone else.  So a wider discussion of crew procedures cannot be conducted without a clear mutual understanding what these terms mean, for the purposes of this discussion.  

On this website the following concepts are used, and placed in the context of a time period when two or more individuals are flying together as a single crew, i.e. for a flying duty period, which may comprise more than one flight.

  • The terms “Captain” and “First Officer” denote the rank which an individual holds within the airline. Your Rank does not change during the course of a flying duty period: if you are a Captain when you sign in for duty, you will expect to sign out as one as well! 
  • The terms “Pilot” and “Co-pilot” indicate an individual’s role in a specific flight. Generally the “Pilot” is the crew member regarded as being “in charge” of the flight and primarily responsible for its overall conduct and decision-making, whilst a “Co-pilot” fulfils an essential but subsidiary role.  
  • The terms “Pilot Flying” (or “PF”) and “Pilot not Flying” (or “PNF”)/Pilot Monitoring (or "PM") should designate tasks or functions, indicating which individual in a crew has the immediate responsibility for short term control of the aircraft flight path.   It is quite common for this to change during the course of an individual flight. For example, the P1 (in charge) may ask the P2 (co-pilot) to take the controls whilst he examines the implications of a particular technical problem, or wants to discuss some aspect of operations with the airline’s control centre, or take a physiological break.

Crew members may change roles during the course of a flying duty period made up of several individual flights, but generally they do not change roles during the course of an individual flight. For example, in typical “leg and leg flying”, during a single flying duty period of one day with four sectors, each may act as “pilot-in-charge” for two sectors, and as “co-pilot” for two sectors. The role exchange lasts for units of one complete flight.

In the major full-mission simulations carried out by NASA in 1979, this frequently occurred, and for ease of understanding the report, NASA used the terms “P1” to mean the "first pilot" or “pilot-in-charge” of a single flight, and “P2” the second pilot or co-pilot, so that when the First Officer made the takeoff as PF, the Captain acted as the "P2". That terminology is also used on this website. 

The reason for making these distinctions becomes obvious when it is realised that an identical division of physical activity in airline Standard Operating Procedures may be written down as allocating them to “Pilot Flying” and “Pilot not flying” in airline A, to "Captain and First Officer" in airline B, and to "Captain and Co-pilot" in airline C, etc.    

Within airline A or B or C, all the pilots know what is meant, e.g. when a Captain may “be” a co-pilot, or a co-pilot the “pilot flying”. But these rules do not necessarily have any common meaning between airlines A, B, and C.   So on this site, the "P1" and "P2" terminology is used, as described above.