Question: "Can a pilot be positioned down to be a co-pilot if there is not enough personnel?"
We hear a lot about pilot shortage (Or we used to do at least before COVID-19); so how do airlines keep up with their schedule without affecting their operation massively? Although they are short-staffed!
Actually, the first thing to address in the question is the terms (Pilot / Co-Pilot). The correct terms would be Captain / First Officer. And this is how I will be referring to them throughout this article.
So the question, in this case, becomes: "Can a captain be positioned down to be a First officer if there is not enough personnel?"
It's true that some airlines have plenty of captains but not enough First officers; so the question that would arise is:
"Can a pilot be positioned down to be a co-pilot if there is not enough personnel?"
YES! This can happen. If there aren't enough First Officers, then two captains can be scheduled to fly together.
Can two Captains Fly An Airliner?
As long as the other captain has a type rating of the aircraft they are about to fly; then it's all fine! What you have to know is the Captain / First officer ranks given by the airline itself. They are both qualified to do their flying duties but only one of them (The Captain) is qualified to act as a commander.
And for the flight to take place; you would need to have a pilot that acts as a commander and one that acts as a First Officer.
To Put Simply:
- The Captain Can Fly. The First Officer Can Fly. They both share flying qualifications.
- The Captain is qualified to legally act as Pilot in Command (Commander).
- The First Officer is not qualified legally to act as Pilot In Command (Commander).
A First Officer cannot fly with another First Officer. No one of them is legally qualified to act as Pilot in command; and as we mentioned earlier; for the flight to take place, you would need a pilot that's qualified to act as a commander.
A Captain CAN fly with another Captain. Both are legally entitled to act as Pilot in command, but the question now is: "Who will be the Pilot In Command then?"
The answer is simple actually. They would decide between them prior to the flight. They can either decide that one of them will act as Pilot In Command for the whole day or they would switch the legal Pilot In Command duties on the way back.
But How Would Two Captains Fly?
As mentioned, when the PIC is decided upon; one would do Captain duties and the other would de First Officer duties just as a normal flight.
Is There A Risk If Two Captains Fly Together?
Nowadays, it shouldn't be a problem as most airlines implement good CRM principles but still, there would be a risk of authority conflict between the two; but I would say that's pretty rare.