Who’s Who in the Crew?
Whether you’re flying commercially or you prefer to charter a private jet, you’ll find a variety of highly trained, passionate crew members at your service. Traveling at high speeds through the air, all over the world, all the time, is more of a calling than a job.
It takes a diverse team of skilled individuals, all working together to ensure that you, the passenger, enjoy a seamless experience. For each of them job satisfaction comes from a perfectly smooth flight, as well as customer happiness, and for most, that starts long before take-off.
There’s no quick way to become a member of the flight or ground crew. Most of the many positions require a lot of formal training, testing and re-testing. Pilots don’t only need a lot of schooling but also need to invest a lot of money up front while clocking up more than 1000 hours of flight time. And that’s before even considering applying for a position at a commercial airline (let alone a private one). We’ve compiled a list of just a handful of flight and ground crew positions in which we’ll explain their role, how they work together and what training they require. Let’s get started.
The pilot is in charge of controlling the plane itself as well as being in overall command of the flight and everyone on board. It’s a lot of responsibility, but pilots undergo severe stress testing during their 1500 required training flight hours and throughout their careers to prepare them. Charter pilots (or private pilots) have slightly more career autonomy.
Scott E. Skyes from the US Aviation Academy told us the following:
“In August 2014 the FAA changed rules regarding ATP (Air Transport Pilot) licenses required for Part 121 (scheduled airline) carriers. Now most ATP license holders must have completed at least 1500 flight hours. This is a massive increase, particularly for co-pilots, or first officers. Their required hours have increased from 250 to 1500.
The majority of pilots get into the industry by following these three steps:
1. Earn licenses and ratings
“US Aviation’s role in the process is parts 1 and 2. We help students attain their licenses and ratings either through a vocational course or one of our partner degree programs. After completing training, we hire most of our CFIs to train new students. They are then building hours and earning pay as flight instructors. Most stay with us around 1.5 years and then move on to a regional airline. Some stay longer and go into US Aviation’s King Air program, earning multi engine turbine time. These King Air pilots usually stay 2.5-3 years and then move on to regional airlines or charter companies.”
Also known as aviation mechanics or aviation maintenance technicians, these crew members work tirelessly to ensure that every plane meets with FAA requirements. When new planes arrive, they follow up on potential issues and ensure that each plane they check has had its routine inspections. Air mechanics can work on airframe maintenance, airplane power systems and more.
Air mechanics need to be licensed by an FAA approved aviation maintenance tech school, which takes about two years. They also need to be in reasonable shape since they’re climbing up and down ladders to get all over airframes. With about 30 months of on the job experience, air mechanics can apply to become recognized aircraft technicians, who are ready for more advanced areas of the job, such as working directly on the instruments.
Flight Medics, or flight paramedics, won’t be found on every flight. In most cases these highly trained medical practitioners appear on rescue choppers and their primary function is to keep the patient stable during transit to a proper medical facility. These flight crew specialists are very good at emergency, or critical, medical care such as clearing and maintaining the patient's airway, cardiac, obstetric or neonatal life support. On a plane or jet they’d be able to identify contagious infections among passengers and, if necessary, contact the appropriate authorities.
The International Association of Flight Paramedics (IAFP) generally prefers that traditional paramedics work full time for three years in a high stress, advanced life support system before seeking to become a flight medic. When they think they’re ready, they need to pass the examinations for Flight Paramedic Certification and Critical Care Paramedic Certification administrated by The Board of Critical Care Transport Paramedic Certification.
We caught up with flight attendant extraordinaire Dan Air of Confessions of a Trolley Dolly
“Our primary role on board any aircraft is safety. All cabin crew are trained to the highest standards in safety and standard operating procedures, as well as first aid. Our rigorous initial training course is backed up by yearly recurrent/refresher training. We're also onboard to make your flight more comfortable and this is where our onboard service and customer service training comes in. On a daily basis our job requires we arrive for a pre-flight briefing, usually an hour before departure.”
“All training, both initial and our yearly recurrent, is laid out by our individual airlines and their aviation authorities, such as the CAA in the UK or the FAA in the US. The initial training is very intense. There is a lot to cram in, in a short space of time. Various written and practical exams have to be carried out by the new entrants and if they fail, they will be removed from the course. Our yearly refresher training ensures that our knowledge is kept up-to-date and again, exams have to be completed to ensure we are safe to fly. This covers all aspects of the role in terms of first aid, safety and standard operating procedures.”“We interact with pilots and the ground crew a lot, we have a great working relationship with them.”
It’s pretty widely accepted that air traffic controllers (ATC) have one of the most stressful jobs in the world, due in large part, to the amount of lives in their hands at any given time. Only rigorous training gives them the tools to cope with this. An ATC is a highly trained professional whose duty it is to coordinate the flight and landing of your plane and dozens of others at the same time, ensuring that everyone is where they should be, whether in the sky or on the ground.
Becoming an ATC begins by joining an air traffic management program at an FAA accredited institution. Graduates must then apply to the FAA Academy for further training. Required personal skills are strong communication, decision-making, math, concentration and organizational skills, which are tested throughout the training. After completing the FAA’s two to five month training program, controllers are posted to an air traffic control facility to work as developmental controllers. During this time, the trainees must obtain the FAA’s air tower operator certification.
There are plenty of other vitally important positions on the air and ground crew, too many to cover in a single article. But, since we don’t want to leave so many great people out, here are a few more:
- First Officer - The first officer (or FO) is also known as the co-pilot and acts as the captain’s second. Hours as a FO are often a prerequisite to becoming a fully-fledged pilot or captain.
- Loadmaster - These specialists calculate proper weight distribution to ensure a safe flight, customizing all trips according to the unique requirements.
- Airborne Sensor Operator - Someone trained to operate sensor equipment aboard an aircraft and to perform limited interpretations of the data produced in flight.
Although the industry is far too large to break down everyone’s roles, we hope we’ve at least been able to give you an idea of the scope and training involved. Of course, the best way to really see what’s involved is to charter a private jet to your next destination and have a chat to the on board crew members about what they do!