The roles of the captain and copilot are very much alike; they’re both in charge of keeping the plane in flight. As their titles may suggest, the captain bears the weight of more responsibilities than the copilot, even though they share many of the same duties throughout the flight.
The flight, the aircraft, the crew, and the passengers all fall under the responsibility of the captain. This role ensures that all of the necessary checks are made before takeoff, during mid-flight, and during landing. The captain is responsible for safety checklists, weather checks, and flying to the destination. They report any issues, such as turbulence, during the flight and adapt flight plans according to communications for air traffic control. In emergencies, a captain may hand over all of the routine tasks to their copilot in order to manage a situation.
To be clear, there are no tasks the copilot can’t do that a captain can. The captain will direct the responsibilities for the copilot on each flight. The copilot and captain typically share the flight tasks, but the copilot could be in control of the navigational computers or communication radios. For longer flights, the copilot takes command so the captain may take a break. It’s also common that the copilot and captain alternate tasks for different legs of the flight to avoid falling into a routine. If the captain falls ill or becomes incapacitated, the copilot will take command.
Both the captain and the copilot require the same skills for piloting and hold the same qualifications; however, the captain has much more experience than the copilot. The fundamental difference between a captain and his copilot is rank; a captain wears four stripes on his uniform whereas a copilot wears three. The copilot takes orders from the captain and reports to him. Due to the captain’s extra experience, and the weight of the responsibility he carries for that flight, the salary for a captain is much higher than a copilot.
Many pilots, both captains and copilots, learned to fly in the military. However some took the civilian route and learned to fly at a commercial flight school. Many airlines continue training their pilots throughout their career, both on the ground and in the air. To maintain a pilot certification, additional training programs are required each year as well as passing vision and physical exams.