Number of Pilots

So I follow a BA A380 Captain on Twitter and came across one of his many interesting tweets about the number of Captains and First Officers they have for their fleet of 12.
He said they have 117 Captains and 169 First Officers. That’s just for the A380 fleet alone. Averaging roughly 10 Captains and 14 First Officers PER AIRCRAFT.

Does anyone know why they have so many? I understand they sometimes need multiple flight crews on a flight, some pilots on standby. Is it to do with flying hours etc? Cause that’s a lot of people…a lot of training costs and wages! I’d love to know their numbers for each aircraft type.


Wow, that is a lot! I’ve always wondered how many pilots airlines have for the amount of aircraft.

(I think) Pilots don’t work 24/7 so they need more pilots. They also need reserve pilots in case something happens and the scheduled pilot can’t fly.

1 Like

Every pilot has days off, they need reserves, pilots take vacations, and others are all factors to the amount of pilots needed.


That’s about normal for long haul operations. For each ‘line’ of work you need a crew to fly the aircraft out, a crew to fly it back and a crew on their mandatory rest between flights.

Most long haul flights in excess of 9 hours require 3 pilots and flights in excess of 12 hours generally need 4 pilots. If you have 4/5 day trips then you will have 2 crews on rest days in between flights.

The you’ll have pilots on leave, days off, simulator training, ground training etc.

Shorthaul require less crews per airframe but Ultra Long Haul require more.

Hope that helps.


A380’s probably do 1.5 flights per day, while the pilots can only do about 3 ish flights per week. There is also 2 crews onboard on every flight. If you follow my math: 14x7x1.5=147, and 147/3=49. 49x2=98. You can also not really on those pilots to fly all the time, they take vacation, they have days off, they get sick, they need time for family and he selves, so you need backups and replacements as well. So that is where it think that that number comes from.

Unfortunately there aren’t 2 crews on every flight. Flight crew are expensive! So the number of flight crew required is dependent upon the length of the flight. So, for a London to Washington for example, a flight of about 7 hours or so, only 2 pilots are needed. So, 2 out, 2 waiting to fly it back on the rotation and 2 in the hotel resting.

On a longer flight, say London to Cape Town, 11 hours, then you will have a Captain and 2 Co-Pilots splitting the flying so each can have mandated rest in the crew rest facilities. This gives you 3 flying out, 3 on the rotation and 3/6 in the hotel.

Chuck in a Singapore or a Buenos Aires, 14 hours, and you’re looking at 2 crews, 2 Captains and 2 Co-Pilots. Normally a longer trip so 4 out, 4 rotating back and 8 in the hotel.

As you can see, looking at duty pay and accommodation the costs just for the flight crew can mount considerably.

Therefore the companies will generally try to minimise the number of crew on a trip by pushing flight speeds, departure times and rest times.

It’s a constant battle believe me!


I read a thing from Emirates, and they say that there is always 2 A380 crews. One does takeoff and landing, the other the cruising. Its from an A380 pilot interview.

1 Like

Nope, you’re confusing it with the ‘heavy’ crews or the ‘cruise’ pilot.

In some airlines (Emirates) they have cruise pilots who are not qualified to operate the aircraft below 10,000ft. They only conduct landings in the simulator once every 6 months. They are consequently paid a much reduced salary!

‘Heavy’ crews consist of either a Captain and 2 fully qualified Co-Pilots or 2 complete crews. In the event of a ‘heavy’ crew a full ATPL qualified co-pilot will occupy the left hand seat as the PIC for the time the Captain is taking his rest and the right hand seat for the time the ‘operating’ co-pilot is taking his rest.

A full 2 crew trip will consist of 2 Captains and 2 Co-Pilots, one crew will ‘operate’ the outbound sector and the other crew will ‘operate’ the return sector with the heavy crew supporting in flight.

It’s a very different thing running ‘heavy’ crew to ‘cruise’ pilots. Don’t let the middle east ‘flim flam’ fool you.


Why would people only qualify to fly at cruise? I understand the point from an airlines point of view but why do people do this? Is it before they fully qualify or is this their sole job?

Some airlines use pilots as ‘Second Officers’ as they can employ them on a lower wage scale as they gain ‘experience’ as cruise pilots.

In many airlines it is a necessary, if unwelcome, step to getting a First Officers position and a seat at the controls for take-off and landing. It is however a ‘way’ of building hours to a full ATPL in a long haul jet I suppose if no Short Haul FO positions are available.

As a cruise only pilot they will only carry out their duties above FL100 and will not be at the controls of an aircraft below that level. They’ll do this for a few years before moving into the simulator for their ‘upgrade’ to First Officer which normally requires a fully tested series of take-off and landing scenarios. Failure to pass such a check results in remaining as a cruise pilot.

Personally I disagree with the practice but while there are people willing to take the positions the companies will continue to employ them as it is cheaper.


I know someone who joined Cathay Pacific as a Second Officer on the 777 about 6 months ago - it’s exactly what you describe.

For those of you who don’t understand why people join as a SO, there are a few reasons.

Firstly job security. Secondly pay - even though the job is somewhat limited, the pay is better than flying as a FO for a typical regional or flying GA aircraft for the equivalent hours.

Thirdly, a structured career path. You know to a high level of accurancy the time to reach FO, and you are in a reasonable chance of getting your command in about 10 years.
That is better all round than flying bug smashers when you want to settle down, get a home and have a family.

1 Like

However your handling skills are severely curtailed by achieving on 1 or 2 actual landings a month as an FO on a big jet.

My personal opinion is that the transition to Long Haul should be done through Short Haul and the exposure to continual departures, approaches and landings. The SO way, directly onto big jets with limited approach and landing opportunities leads to the problems that have been seen at Dubai.

I cannot fault the technical knowledge of some of my younger colleagues in the RHS but their application of the books to the everyday differences of the real world need training.

Flying big jets needs experience but that experience should not solely come from flying big jets.

All IMHO of course.

1 Like

Yes seems more sensible to build up the hours in the smaller aircraft before moving up to long haul aircraft where you get much less experience as a PF and corresponding in air handling experience. From that point of view I quiet like the U.S. Style of approach where start in regional jets buillding experience before moving across to a mainline FO position ( usually on Narrowbody) when with more experience moving up Widebody and Long Haul ops.

Friend of mine recently moved from a UK LoCo command over to “Big Airways” on their long haul fleet ex LHR. Said biggest change is going from 4 or even 6 sector days with at least 2 landings guaranteed a day In interesting airports to only 2 or 3 landings a month!

1 Like

I am slightly mistaken. After looking more into it, pilots for the A380 fly in about five and a half hour shifts. Not 2 full crews, but 2 full sets of pilots. One takes of and flies for six or so hours, then the next take over. The takeoff crew then rests. The second crew either cruises with the plane for six hours, or lands, dependent on the flight time. Also, what if there is only one Captain and one Co-Pilot, and they both go down with a terrible flu in flight, then what? And also, what is the point of being a pilot if all you do is land on a simulator every six months?

They have that many because there will always be an outbound crew and an inbound crew to the airline’s hub. Plus there are pilots that have time off etc.

Not even 2 full sets of pilots.

Take, for example, a flight from say London to Tokyo. Approximately 11 hours. This flight will be crewed 1 Captain and 2 Co-Pilots. The flight time will be docked one hour for time to brief the approach at the other end and the remainder split into 3. So 11 hours becomes 10 hours becomes 3 hours 20 each rest.

That is for a company running normal crews, not cruise only crews. One FO will be designated PIC for the time the Captain is on his rest. This requires all flight crew to hold full ATPL qualifications.

With a cruise only flight crew he may only occupy the seat when a fully qualified pilot (Captain or FO) occupies the other seat so you wouldn’t have 2 cruise only pilots as far as I know. (I have never operated with cruise pilots!)

As far as sickness goes it’s a calculated risk. What if there are only two of you anyway! (London-JFK). The cruise pilot system is cheap for the airlines that operate it and a stepping stone for the pilots who want the full RHS job.

I know this depends a lot company to company, but when you have a 1 Cpt and 2 FO crew, and one of the FO tales over as PIc whilst CPT takes a rest, who decides which FO will be PIC? Is it left up to the CPT prior flight, or done by scheduling or will one of the FO have been graded as a Senior First Officer with a certain number of hours on the equipment, completed additional command training etc?

To be honest it’s up to the Captain who will usually decide based upon which of the co-pilots has been in the company the longest!

1 Like

ah thanks. I know that in BA for example all co-pilots are promoted to Senior First Officer when they have 4 years in the company seniority (irrespective of TT Hours), they get individually graded to A or B (or similar) after reviews with a Training Capt and Sim work. A’s can act as a PIC with the captain resting with an Augmented crew (Cpt + 2 FO). A “B” SFO however can not act as a PIC and there are restrictions on who they can fly with, however that doesn’t affect their seniority as a FO for chosing a line of work or change of equipment but will effect them being promoted to the right seat