Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors - What They Do

Air pilots fly fixed wing aircraft and helicopters to provide air transportation and other services such as crop spraying and aerial surveying. Flight engineers assist air pilots with monitoring, troubleshooting and maintenance of aircraft systems and with pre- and post-flight inspections. Flying instructors teach flying techniques and procedures to student and licensed pilots. Air pilots, flight engineers and flight instructors are employed by airline and air freight companies, flying schools and by other public and private sector aircraft operators.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Air pilots

  • Conduct pre-flight inspection of aircraft and check passenger and cargo distribution to ensure that weight and balance specifications are met
  • Co-ordinate flight activities with ground crews and air-traffic control, inform crew members of flight and test procedures and direct activities of aircraft crew during flights
  • Contact control towers for takeoff clearances, arrival instructions and other information
  • Conduct in-flight tests and monitor functioning of aircraft equipment and systems during flights, maintain communications with flight dispatchers and weather forecasters and respond to and report in-flight emergencies and malfunctions
  • Prepare flight evaluation reports
  • Train pilots to use new equipment, or prepare them for examinations to revalidate or upgrade existing licences
  • May fly new or experimental planes to examine their flight performance and safety
  • May participate in search and rescue operations, forest firefighting, aerial surveying, crop dusting and other services.

Flight engineers

  • Inspect aircraft prior to takeoff according to pre-flight checklist and verify passenger and cargo distribution to ensure that weight and balance specifications are met
  • Assist air pilots in monitoring aircraft systems, equipment and functions during flight
  • Make in-flight repairs, such as replacing fuses and adjusting instruments, and follow emergency procedures to compensate for equipment malfunction or failure
  • Perform post-flight inspections, record equipment malfunctions and corrective actions taken during flight and report required repairs to ground maintenance personnel.

Flying instructors

  • Instruct student pilots in procedures and techniques of flying aircraft and in ground-school subjects such as navigation, radio procedures and flying regulations
  • Train licensed pilots for additional certification.

Job titles

  • co-pilot
  • chief pilot
  • flight engineer
  • second officer - air transport
  • captain - air transport
  • check pilot
  • chief flying instructor
  • test pilot
  • flying instructor
  • helicopter pilot
  • air pilot
  • pilot instructor
  • relief pilot
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job.

Pilots and flight engineers

  • Completion of secondary school and graduation from a certified flying or aviation school are required.
  • A university degree or college diploma may be required.
  • A commercial pilot's licence or an air transport pilot's licence is required.
  • Additional licences or endorsements to fly different types of aircraft are required.
  • Flight engineers require a flight engineer license issued by Transport Canada.
  • Structured training is provided by employers.

Flight instructors

  • Completion of secondary school and graduation from a certified flying or aviation school are required.
  • A university degree or college diploma may be required.
  • A commercial pilot's or an air transport pilot's licence is required.
  • Transport Canada ratings and endorsements to provide instructions on different types of aircraft are required.

Essential Skills


Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Read e-mail containing flight scheduling information. (1)
  • Read aviation magazines to learn about topics such as flight safety and aircraft maintenance. (2)
  • Read about operational faults and needed maintenance in aircraft log books. They look to see if there are recurring faults or safety concerns that will affect planned flights. (2)
  • Read flight safety briefings, line reports and company memos and directives to improve performance and learn more about general safety topics. (2)
  • Read accident reports and bulletins from Transport Canada and from the Transportation Safety Board to learn about recent accidents, causal factors and new regulations. (3)
  • Read the Canadian Air Regulations and the less technical Aeronautical Information Publication issued by Transport Canada to learn about air regulations and procedures for aviation in Canada. They also read about revisions and addenda to the Canadian Air Regulations. (4)
  • Read aircraft operation and maintenance manuals to learn about normal and abnormal operating procedures. (4)

Flying instructors

  • Read policy and regulatory manuals such as the standing operating procedures issued by Transport Canada to ensure that training plans follow approved policies and regulations. (3)

Document use

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Attend to runway lighting systems (1)
  • Read pre-start forms that list aircraft systems and instruments to be checked during restarts, taxi checks and stand-down checks. (2)
  • Read charts to convert estimates of snow cover on runways to Canadian Runway Friction Index numbers. (2)
  • Check aircraft maintenance log books for information such as total flying hours, required maintenance and inspection dates and operating discrepancies. These discrepancies are noted in the minimum equipment list manual which is kept in the aircraft and tells pilots what equipment may be inoperative and under what conditions aircraft may be operated. (3)
  • Read information from cockpit instruments and graphical user interfaces such as the flight management system head's up display (HUD). The HUD includes graphical and textual information on altitude, airspeed, vertical speed, weather radar readings, vector coordinates, system status, visual identifiers, and many other variables. Flight-progress monitoring is ongoing so they check information from flight instruments frequently to ensure that the aircraft is operating correctly and the flight is proceeding safely and efficiently. (4)
  • Complete flight-planning forms and flight test and proficiency check summaries. They enter information about headings, weather forecasts, cruising altitudes and flight levels, flight routes, destination aerodromes, fuel required and use of visual or instrument flight rules. They must review information from documents such as radar images, meteorological reports and aeronautical charts, adjust and correct the information on the forms during flights to reflect changing conditions. (4)

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Read loading graphs and charts of moment envelopes to determine aircraft weight and balance prior to flights. (2)
  • Use weight and balance graph sheets showing the total weight of a load including the pilot, other crew members, passengers, baggage, fuel and water to ensure that loads are within the centre of gravity limits for aircraft and in accordance with safety regulations. (3)
  • Read manifests of dangerous goods that will be loaded on aircraft. They scan the manifests for descriptions of the dangerous goods, hazard classifications or risk groups and appropriate handling instructions and spill procedures. (3)

Flying instructors

  • Scan pre-flight checklists to confirm that students have completed external checks of aircraft in accordance with operating instructions. (2)
  • Refer to lesson plans in ground schools. They ensure that lesson plans are updated regularly to comply with changes in rules and regulations.
  • Complete training record forms to document pilots' performance during simulator training. They also assess pilot performance and document proficiency ratings and general comments on official Transport Canada Flight Test Report of Pilot Proficiency Check. (3)


Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Write e-mail to co-workers, colleagues and others on a variety of topics. For example, flying instructors write e-mail to students who request changes in their flying lessons and to Transport Canada requesting appointments for students' flight tests. (2)
  • Write comments describing normal and abnormal operating events in line reports and aircraft log books during and following flights. (2)
  • Write letters describing accidents and in-flight mishaps. For example, air pilots may write detailed descriptions about the failures of landing equipment that resulted in accidents while landing. They explain the procedures they followed to avert the accidents and the possible consequences of taking other actions. Flying instructors may write letters to insurance companies detailing the events and conditions which caused student pilots to crash aircraft. (3)

Flying instructors

  • Write training manuals, syllabi, training aids and lesson plans for initial and recurrent training programs. They describe training requirements for different types of aircraft and explain the goals of the training exercises in documents for instructors and students. They keep the manuals up to date to reflect changes in rules and regulations. Training programs are audited periodically by Transport Canada for quality and currency. (4)


Money Math

Flying Instructors

  • Calculate flight training fees using hourly and daily rates. They total amounts on invoices and calculate applicable taxes. (2)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

Flying Instructors

  • May prepare budgets for training programs including classroom instruction, simulator and flight training. They include costs of aircraft rental, fuel, flight simulator use, salary, airport fees and classroom supplies. (2)

Measurement and Calculation Math

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Compare global positioning coordinates of latitude and longitude with flight plan projections of time and distance. Deviations from flight plans are calculated, documented and communicated to local air traffic control centres. (2) )
  • Convert load sheets prepared by ramp personnel into weight and balance forms. This requires calculating gross weight and centre of gravity using the 'moment arm' and the 'balance moment' of loads brought onto aircraft. (3)

Data Analysis Math

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Calculate average altitude by combining durations spent at different altitudes. (2)
  • calculate fuel burn rates on each leg of multiple-stop flights. Data from each leg are compared and analyzed for irregularities. They calculate average fuel consumption for the entire flight. (2)
  • Monitor engine performance data such as temperature trends, revolutions per minute, fuel consumption and inter-stage pressures. They integrate and analyze the data for signs of pending problems or to assist in diagnosing performance problems. (3)

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Confirm that there are sufficient flying hours remaining to complete flights before the next inspection or maintenance. (2)

Numerical Estimation

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Estimate the amount of fuel aircraft will use during flights. (1)

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Estimate the amount of snow cover on runways. (2)
  • Estimate time required to load aircraft, de-ice wings, receive clearance for take-off and complete flights. If they are scheduled to make turn-around flights, they estimate whether the 'eleven hour duty limit' will be exceeded. (3)

Oral communication

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Communicate with air traffic controllers and airline dispatch operators about what runways to use for takeoff and landing. (1)
  • Communicate frequently with flight crew about the status of the aircraft and its readiness for take-off. Air pilots recognize the importance of professional and tactful communication, knowing that it results in more effective and efficient flight crews. (2)
  • May address passengers over aircraft public address systems at various times during flights. For example, they tell passengers about weather conditions, altitudes and estimated times of arrival. During abnormal situations such as aborted landings due to severe weather, they tell passengers what is happening and reassure them. (2)
  • Discuss problems encountered during flights with crew and attendants. For example, during thunderstorms air pilots may discuss options with flight crews before making important decisions. (3)

Flying instructors

  • May discuss student progress and developmental needs with other flying instructors. (2)
  • Make formal presentations to small groups of students in classrooms. They may provide several levels of flying instruction, including private and commercial pilot licences, instrument flight rules and multi-engine ratings. They change presentation style to suit the level of instruction they are providing. (3)


Problem Solving

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Discover that aircraft have repetitive problems during flight. For example, an air pilot notices that the door latch continuously releases during take-offs and landings. Despite repeatedly noting the problem in the aircraft log book, it has not been corrected by the aircraft mechanic. The pilot speaks directly with the aircraft mechanic, who promptly orders and installs a replacement latch mechanism. (2)

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Encounter aircraft system malfunctions during flights. For example, a pilot may discover that an aircraft's wing flap is stuck fully down, causing excessive drag and affecting aircraft control. The pilot selects the flap override switch, bringing it up twenty degrees, to make landing possible and reports the fault in the log book. (2)
  • Encounter failures in communication between flight operations and airport services. For example, a pilot discovers that fuel for a return flight is not available. A six to eight-hour delay will occur unless the pilot can locate another source of fuel. The alternate refueller found demands a premium price for the fuel. The pilot arranges to load the premium-priced fuel, and the flight continues on schedule. (3)
  • Encounter mechanical problems during flights. For example, a pilot experiences engine failure on a single engine aircraft. The pilot checks to see if the fuel tank is empty and then switches the fuel selector to the reserve tank in an attempt to restart the engine. If that does not resolve the situation, nearby terrain is assessed in order to select a suitable area for a forced approach. (3)

Decision Making

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Decide to cancel flights when Navigation Canada reports bad or threatening weather. (2)

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Decide to accept dangerous goods cargoes and review manifests to determine whether the cargoes are documented and properly processed. They do not accept hazardous cargoes if they believe there are risks for aircraft, crew and passengers. (2)
  • Decide what type of de-icing fluid to use when taking off during snowstorms. For example, Type 1 de-icing fluid, which is hot, will remove everything from the wings when sprayed on. The air pilot and flight engineer have the option of also applying Type 4 de-icing fluid, a mucous-like, spray-on substance that will prevent anything from getting on the wings. Type 4 is costly and its application can delay takeoff by up to an hour. They decide whether the severity of the snowstorm warrants the use of Type 4 de-icing fluid. (3)

Critical Thinking

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Judge the accuracy of flight plans provided by flight operations and dispatch. They review flight plans to ensure that the information they contain is adequate to safely execute flights. They assess all information in collaboration with the crew and flight operations before deciding whether flights should proceed. (3)
  • Judge the air-worthiness of aircraft they are asked to fly. They review the aircraft's maintenance history, visually inspect the aircraft, and talk to mechanics, other pilots and ground crew. (4)

Flying instructors

  • Evaluate the learning needs of students in ground school. (2)
  • Judge the accuracy and completeness of students' flight plans. They check for specific information such as current and forecasted weather, and the details of the projected flight paths to ensure possible hazards have not been overlooked. (3)
  • Evaluate students' readiness for Transport Canada flight-testing. They assess students' airborne flying skills and compare the results to Transport Canada safety regulations, review students' academic and applied skills by asking questions and providing short tests. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Those working for smaller companies or who are self-employed may be responsible for scheduling their own time. They play a large role in coordinating and integrating their job tasks with many people who need to be involved in every flight. Air pilots who work for smaller companies, fire fighting or rescue services may be expected to fly to remote or dangerous locations on short notice. Some may have schedules that are often chaotic. Those working for larger airlines or freight carriers have their flights scheduled well in advance by airline flight operations. They are provided with monthly schedules so that their daily routines and flight plans are quite structured and follow similar patterns.

Flying instructors organize their work with detailed schedules. They coordinate their daily job tasks with students. The scheduling of flying lessons is sometimes complicated by cancellations due to bad weather. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Air pilots who work for smaller companies may plan the operations of other aircraft and schedule their crew. Flying instructors plan training programs and schedule training sessions for their students. (3)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember flight preparation, take off and landing sequences.
  • Commit critical emergency procedures to memory for use when problems are encountered and there is insufficient time to consult operating instructions.
  • Remember numerous acronyms, special notations and symbols specific to aviation. These are found in virtually all documents, reference materials and charts related to aviation.
  • Remember the terms and conditions of collective agreements and rules and regulations that apply to duty time and flight sequences.
  • Remember the names of students and how many hours they have flown.

Finding Information

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Locate information on aviation topics in trade publications, websites and databases. (2)
  • Review the Canadian Air Regulations and the Aeronautical Information Publication for information on rules, regulations and procedures concerning unusual or unfamiliar situations. (2)
  • Find information needed to plan flights. They carefully review and monitor Navigation Canada weather reports, maps and computerized radar images, and take information from pilot operations' handbooks. They review aeronautical navigation charts and aerodrome-specific charts for information about vector coordinates, radio beacon and visual identifiers, and classified airspace boundary information. (3)

Air pilots and flight engineers

  • Consult terminal area charts to find the length of landing strips. (1)

Digital technology

Air Pilots, Flight Engineers and Flying Instructors

  • Use word processing. For example, they write incident reports using Word. They usually create reports by inserting text into report templates. (1)
  • Use graphics software. For example, they use PowerPoint to create slide presentations for training sessions. They insert tables, charts and diagrams to build more effective presentations. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they access specialized databases developed by Transport Canada to get information about aviation accidents and their causes. (2)
  • Use communication software. For example, they use e-mail to exchange information with peers and colleagues. They create and maintain address and distribution lists, and send and receive attachments. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they use advanced flight management systems on newer and larger passenger aircraft for flight planning, navigation, performance management, aircraft guidance and flight-progress monitoring. They use graphical user interfaces to input and read information about flights. (3)

Air pilots and flying instructors

  • May use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. For example, those who manage their own businesses track expenditures and profits using small business accounting software such as Quicken. (2)

Flying instructors

  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they enter data into spreadsheets to record student performance and test results. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Air pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors work in a variety of settings and have a wide range of roles. Depending on their work settings, they can work individually, with partners, helpers or larger teams. Airline pilots who fly larger aircraft work with first officers, flight attendants and security personnel, exchanging information and coordinating tasks as necessary.

Medical evacuation pilots also work with their teams, coordinating their work with dispatchers, paramedics and other emergency workers. Bush pilots typically work independently, with a partner or helper. Flying Instructors coordinate their work with other instructors when necessary. (3)

Continuous Learning

Air pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors must be committed to continuous learning. Obtaining a commercial pilot licence is only an initial step in becoming a full-time pilot. Individuals with newly acquired commercial pilot licences are rarely hired at major carriers until they have gained significant experience, demonstrated by hours of flight logged and pilot-in-command time, experience in a multi-crew cockpit, experience and type ratings on turbojets or high performance turboprops and additional academic training. They gain experience and accumulate hours as flying instructors or by flying small single crew aircraft. They acquire new skills on topics such as instrument flight rules and multi-engine ratings and attend training sessions offered by their employers on topics such as new Transport Canada regulations and de-icing procedures. To maintain their flying licences, air pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors must demonstrate their continuing education and skills development during annual ground school training courses and flight simulator evaluations. To upgrade their qualifications, they must receive training on each specific aircraft they want to fly. Because newer, larger, and more technically sophisticated aircraft are continually being built, learning about individual aircraft can occur on an ongoing basis. Air pilots, flight engineers and flying instructors read the Canadian Air Regulations, the Aeronautical Information Publication and the Canadian Air Regulations to keep up-to-date on air regulations and procedures. They also read aviation magazines and publications from trade press and exchange information with co-workers and peers.