Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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Many have the misconception that being a pilot probably just mean that you fly the plane and nothing else, but in fact, there's so much more to this career than it meets the eye. There are actually numerous ranks or positions, with each having different and unique sets of responsibilities. Airlines typically use epaulettes, which are the ornamental bars worn on the shoulders of the uniform, to represent seniority and may also use other embellishments to represent certain positions within the company.
The rank structure may differ from airline to airline but generically follow a similar structure, as sampled below by our flag carrier Singapore Airlines and her budget offspring Scoot:
Cadet pilots are essentially student pilots that are still undergoing training and are at the phases of ground school, flight training school or type-rating. Upon being type-rated to a specific aircraft type, they will begin line flying on the airline's aircrafts and attain either the rank of a Second Officer (SO) or Junior First Officer (JFO), with the former being the most common designation. However, every flight that has a SO or JFO will still require a First Officer (FO) on board as they are still in the midst of undergoing training and are unable to operate in a two-man cockpit crew environment. They are hence classified as pilots who are not yet productive towards the airline.
Once they have met the required standards to operate in the capacity of a co-pilot as part of a two-man cockpit crew, they will check out as a First Officer and are now regarded as productive pilots. First Officers are second in command of the aircraft and deputise after the Captain, unless the flight is a long-haul flight with more than one Captain onboard.
When a First Officer has been flying as co-pilot for a set number of years or flying hours, they will be designated the title of Senior First Officer (SFO). Some airlines do away with the title and continue to position them as First Officers. There is no differentiation between an FO and SFO as their duties and responsibilities remain the same.
There are, however, certain airlines which have the practice of utilising a Senior First Officer as a Cruise Captain due to their relatively high level of flying experience. An SFO occupying the position of a commander during the cruise phase of the flight will negate the need to schedule an additional Captain on a long-haul flight, hence increasing the flexibility of the rostering team, easing pilot shortages (if any) and also saving costs. Airlines in Singapore have yet to establish this arrangement and have continued with their stance and preference in assigning only Captains in taking command during all phases of the flight.
To be eligible for command selection and training to become a Captain (CPT), there is a minimum required number of flying hours and sectors, which may differ between airlines. Definitions are as follow:
Flying Hours: The number of hours flown, regardless of operating capacity of Pilot Flying (PF) or Pilot Monitoring (PM)
Note: Pilot Kaki is in the midst of compiling a guide illustrating the differences between PF vs. PM
Sectors: One pair of take-off and landing constitute as one sector. Only the Pilot Flying (PF) will execute the take-off and landing and hence get sector
In addition to this requirement, the pilot must have satisfactory, higher than average check scores to qualify. Once these have been met, the pilot will join the queue of First Officers awaiting command selection and training, in which the waiting time is dependent on how long the queue is and how many commanders the airline require - a situation of demand and supply.
Upon obtaining command, you may think that the story of progression for a pilot ends there, but that's actually far from it. Although attaining the rank of Captain may seem like the pinnacle (it actually is) and there's nothing 'more than that', there are numerous other appointments which commanders may opt to take on above and beyond their usual flying duties. These include Instructor positions and also Management positions in office. There are also opportunities for First Officers to explore and take on such roles, albeit in a reduced capacity as they are still required to fly relatively often in their bid to Captaincy. Samples of such appointments will be given in the subsequent elaborations of specific airlines below.
Boeing 787 Career Progression
Airbus A320 Career Progression
Unlike Singapore Airlines, Scoot's rank structure can be slightly more complicated and diverges according to the fleet that you are in, with varying durations spent at each rank. This may be attributed to the rarity of switching between fleets during your career when flying for Scoot. The A320 proves to have a faster career progression but despite this fact, the time to reach command is still significantly shorter than SIA at around 8 years.
Cadet Pilot (Same for 787 and A320 fleets) Duration: 20 to 24 months
Same as Singapore Airlines. Refer to the Cadet Pilot Journey page for detailed elaboration.
Boeing 787 Fleet
Scoot pilots on the Boeing 787 follow a similar rank structure as Singapore Airlines. This stems from Scoot being incubated directly from SIA back in 2012, when it was initially planned to be an all-widebody budget airline for medium to long-haul travel. The only major difference (besides the duration between each rank) is that they do not title a pilot wearing 3 bars as Senior First Officer.
Second Officer (SO) Duration: 6 to 8 months
Scoot Cadet Pilots who are type-rated on the Boeing 787 will start off as a Second Officer and take an average of 7 months to complete their initial operating experience. Contrary to Second Officers in SIA who sport 1 bar, the SOs in Scoot don 2 bars on their shoulders.
First Officer (FO) Duration: 8 years (3 years as 2 bars, then 5 years as 3 bars)
After being licensed to operate in a two-man crew environment, First Officers commence full flying duties as a productive pilot. After flying as a co-pilot for 3 years, FOs will undergo a series of check flights and upon passing them, will be awarded with 3 bars to be worn on the uniform. As with most other airlines, although there is a physical difference in the number of bars worn, there is no differentiation between duties and responsibilities.
After obtaining 3 bars, the Scoot FO on the 787 fleet will continue co-pilot duties while waiting for selection for command. This will take about 5 years, contributing to a total net time of 8 years as an FO, which is about 1 to 2 years longer than the A320 fleet. After being chosen for command, training for the left-hand seat will then begin, with rigorous tests and checks over a period of 7 to 8 months.
Airbus A320 Fleet
Scoot pilots on the narrow-body Airbus A320 face stark differences in rank structure from their 787 counterparts. Having been transferred from the now-defunct Tigerair, which was acquired by SIA back in 2016 and then subsequently integrated into Scoot in 2017, the A320s training programme and rank structure were adopted and continued to be put in use.
The A320 fleet omits the rank of Second Officer and replaces it with the title of Junior First Officer. After which, it will somewhat follow a relatively similar structure to that of the Boeing 787 fleet, albeit with slight variations and durations.
Junior First Officer (JFO) Duration: 2 years or 1,500 hours (whichever earlier)
Scoot Cadet Pilots type-rated on the Airbus A320 will begin with an 'elevated' rank of Junior First Officer, although the distinction ends there with there being a titular difference only. They will still undergo similar training as Second Officers until they have successfully checked out as a productive JFO - in which they can now operate in a two-man crew environment.
Upon checking out, they will still hold the rank of and continue to fly as a JFO. Once they have met the required criteria of flying for a period of 2 years or 1,500 hours, whichever is met earlier, they will be designated as First Officers.
First Officer (FO) Duration: 5 years
There is no differentiation between Junior First Officers who have successfully checked out and First Officers, as they are tasked with the exact same duties and responsibilities. The Scoot FO on the A320 fleet will continue co-pilot duties while waiting for selection for command. This will take about 5 years, contributing to a total net time of 6 to 7 years as an FO, which is about 1 to 2 years shorter than the Boeing 787 fleet. After being chosen for command, training for the left-hand seat will then begin, with rigorous tests and checks over a period of 7 to 8 months.
Captain (CPT) (Same for 787 and A320 fleets) Duration: For the rest of career
Awarded 4 bars and the title of Captain, the pilot is now the commander of the aircraft. With an average of 6 to 8 years flying experience since joining Scoot, which is in line with other budget carriers in Asia and Europe, every Scoot Captain is experienced to be placed in-charge of the aircraft, the flight and also the lives on board.
As with SIA, Captains in Scoot can also choose to take up the following positions on top of their flying duties (although titles and designations may differ):
Supervisory Captains (SUC)
Guide and assess Second Officers for 'on-the-line' training in their preparation to check out as First Officers
Line Instructor Pilots (LIP)
Assess flight crew during normal line operations in their annual line check flight
Able to carry out SUC duties
Instructor Pilots (IP)
Assess flight crew on emergency procedures and situations in a flight simulator in their annual base check flight
Able to carry out SUC and LIP duties
Management Pilot Special Duties (MPSD)
Captains typically start in this position when joining Management
Helm and lead select technical projects and aspects
Fleet and Department Management Pilots
Handles fleet responsibilities or takes care of various department (i.e. Training, Operations)
In order of rank structure: Assistant Chief Pilot (ACP) --> Deputy Chief Pilot (DCP) --> Chief Pilot (CP)
Singapore Airlines seconds their own Management Pilots to Scoot to occupy the positions of Scoot Divisional Vice-President (DVP) and Senior Vice-President (SVP) to help helm and run Scoot Flight Operations. This is a practice common to their subsidiaries, which includes Vistara and also their previous regional wing SilkAir.