Decoding MH370/Flight Deck

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Decoding the Flight Deck

In civil aviation the aircraft cockpit is called the Flight Deck. Here are some other terms:-

  • the co-pilot (a military term) is called the First Officer
  • the word Captain is actually a rank or title
  • the senior pilot is usually the Pilot-in-Command, with overall responsibility for the safety of the aircraft and its' occupants
  • as demonstrated by the roles on MH370, the Pilot-in-Command may not be the Pilot Flying
  • the Pilot-in-Command and the First Officer on MH370 are referred to as the Flight Crew
  • the flight attendants are collectively called the Cabin Crew

MH370 Flight Crew

For flight MH370 on Saturday, 8 March 2014 Malaysia Airlines selected one of their most experienced pilots, Captain Zaharie Shah to supervise one of their youngest but very competent pilots, First Officer Fariq Hamid. Fariq had completed all the necessary training as a Boeing 777 pilot and this would be his first time flying as First Officer without a third, fully qualified pilot present.

MH370 'Pilot in Command', and 'Pilot Flying'

Captain Shah was the Pilot-in-Command, or PIC. He was also a trainer and an examiner. Captain Shah confirmed that the First Officer would be the pilot flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

To comply with Malaysia Airlines standard procedures, Captain Shah would maneuver the aircraft on the ground. From push-back and start and taxiing to the runway, Captain Shah was the 'pilot flying', (even though the aircraft was still on the ground) and Fariq was the 'pilot not flying'.

At the runway, the roles would reverse. Captain Shah would clearly state 'You have the flight controls' and Fariq would confirm 'I have the flight controls'. This is a standard procedure called 'Positive Exchange of Flight Controls'. As a third step, Captain Shah would repeat 'You have the flight controls'. The First Officer would then be the 'Pilot Flying'. From take-off the Pilot-in-Command was the 'Pilot Not Flying'.

The 'pilot not flying' has many responsibilities, so is kept busy, and is usually the person communicating with air traffic controllers. That is why in the radio communications before take-off the speaker is the First Officer, and after take-off the speaker is Captain Shah.

Something unusual happened near waypoint IGARI, and we do not know who was the Pilot Flying from that time onwards.