While the primary duty of any airplane pilot is to fly the aircraft safely from one point to another, there are other duties they must perform as well. These duties include adhering to policies and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration, crew and asset management and operational decision-making. You may think that these duties apply to only commercial or military pilots, however private pilots -- or those that fly general aviation aircraft -- are taxed with these duties as well.
Although the owner/operator is responsible for the airworthiness and maintenance of the aircraft, it is still the duty of the pilot to determine that the aircraft is in a condition that is safe for flying. This is accomplished by performing a preflight inspection. During this inspection, the pilot walks around the exterior of the aircraft to check for any sign of problems that could prevent the aircraft from flying properly. This inspection may include checking air pressure in the tires, ease of movement in the plane’s ailerons (hinged flight control surface) and whether the flaps on the aircraft extend properly. The pilot also checks the radio and instruments inside the aircraft and makes sure that the yoke moves freely.
Before a pilot can fly an aircraft, he is required to complete a flight plan and receive a weather briefing. He must calculate the winds, temperatures and air pressure at both the airport he is departing from and the airport of destination. These numbers are then used to calculate the amount of runway needed for both takeoff and landing. The winds at altitude are also used to determine how much fuel is needed to make the trip and how long the flight will take. Once these figures are calculated and the weather is analyzed, the pilot’s duty is to determine if the flight can be made safely with the amount of fuel on board. This decision to “go or no go” is ultimately made by the pilot.
When a pilot is flying a small general aviation aircraft and is the only pilot on board, he is usually referred to as the pilot-in-command. He is responsible for all aspects of flying the aircraft from manning the radios to navigating the plane. In a larger commercial aircraft that has a crew, however, the crew generally splits up the duties. The chief pilot or captain has the duty of managing the crew and is responsible for the operation of the aircraft, even if he is not at the controls.
Aside from the first duty of flying the aircraft, the most important duty of a pilot is to ensure the safety of the passengers. If there is an emergency while the aircraft is in flight, the pilot is required to quickly form and execute a plan that will get the airplane back on the ground in the safest manner possible. This plan might include locating an alternate airport where the plane can land, or if engine failure is imminent, he may choose to perform an emergency landing in an open field or pasture.
- Aviation Maintenance Technician's Handbook; U.S. Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration
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