Air France - Profession: Flight Captain

Monday 14, February 2011


Air France - Profession: Flight Captain


On a day-to-day basis, the airline pilot is mainly concerned with flying the aircraft and dealing with flight telecommunications, navigation and mechanical monitoring procedures. The pilot shares the safety and emergency rescue operations with the cabin crews (flight attendants).


Starting with the technical analysis of the flight file (weather constraints, choice of flight routes, amount of fuel, flight particularities, etc.) through to the flight completion (crew debriefings and flight reports), the pilot takes care of all priorities which are flight safety and security and operating performance (punctuality, limiting impact on the environment).


4,150 pilots at Air France  

102 long-haul aircraft

140 medium-haul aircraft

5 freighters


Two categories of pilots – flight captain and first officer  

The flight captain manages the crew and takes all necessary decisions with his crew from preparing the flight through to its completion with flight safety and security a constant top priority. He takes responsibility for the mission through delegation of authority from the CEO. 


The co-pilot or first officer is second-ranking in the hierarchical structure of the crew. His qualifications allow him to assume the same functions as the flight captain, i.e., flying the aircraft along with the flight navigation, telecommunications and mechanical monitoring procedures. 


On long flights, the crew may comprise more than one first officer.  


Flight captain training  

Pilots come from a variety of backgrounds (ENAC (French Civil Aeronautics Academy) , former military pilots, Air France junior pilot programme, etc.). 


Their training comprises two main sections, an initial training programme and type qualification training periods. After this, continuous vocational training (or maintaining of skills) aims to guarantee an optimal level of professional performance.  


  • A pilot’s initial training leads to the award of a “flight captain” certificate validating a set of skills ranging from meteorology to human factors, via flight navigation, aerodynamics, regulations, air traffic law, aeronautical English and mechanics.
  • The type qualification training periods (Airbus or Boeing) are made up of a theoretical training phase followed by simulator training. These sessions are completed by a practical adaptation period allowing the new pilot to perform his first commercial flights under the aegis of an instructor pilot.


Throughout his career, a flight captain systematically undergoes simulator retraining days/sessions and has several annual controls:


  • on the simulator: twice-annually, a monitoring pilot tests each pilots’ knowledge of failure rectification procedures.
  • during a flight: the tests are carried out during a standard flight during which a monitoring pilot checks the skills of the pilot(s) in charge on the flight. 


Career development: 

A young pilot joins Air France as first officer on a medium-haul flight route, piloting aircraft in the Airbus A320 family.


After spending on average four years as first officer, depending on his personal choices and the airline’s requirements, he can proceed to a long-haul aircraft, the Airbus A330/340, Boeing B747-400, Boeing B777 or Airbus A380.


Throughout his career, the first officer confirms his experience and knowledge of the airline and the air transport sector, allowing him to become flight captain, on average following ten year’s experience as first officer. The transition to flight captain generally takes place on a medium-haul aircraft.


The pilot, at any time in his career, can choose to improve his skills in complementary flight areas such as technical follow-up, flight safety, instruction and management. 


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