In recent years, the industry has seen more long flights added by airlines thanks to new aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. These planes are fuel-efficient and relatively low capacity and as a result, are able to operate long flights in a profitable manner. In fact, many flights today are over 8,200 miles, which is a long way to go nonstop. With airlines planning ever-longer flights, there must be a sufficient number of relief crew members to substitute the nominal flight crew.
Long-haul flying is hard on the body, especially if you’re the one doing the flying. To address this, some airlines include more crew members in order to meet authorities’ regulations, according to the respective country. Sometimes airlines add only First Officers while other carriers prefer to add a pilot to replace the Captain if he needs to take a break. Some airlines just add another Captain, also called “Cruise Captain or Cruise relief Captain”. Cruise relief pilots play an important role on long haul flights. While these positions are often overlooked, with the continuing development of ultra-long-haul and long-haul flights Cruise Captain positions are becoming popular.
Cruise Relief Pilots relieve the Captain and First Officer of their duties while in the cruise portion of the flight. They do not and are not permitted to fly the aircraft below a specific altitude. Therefore, they do not complete any take-offs or landings. Normally they take part in flights nine to ten hours long. A Cruise relief Captain will normally take the left-hand seat at the cruise stage of the flight. They can occupy the jump seat for take-off and landing while the Captain and First Officer remain in the flight deck for the first half hour and the last half-hour of the flight. If the flight is ten hours long, they will often split the flight into three three-hour rest periods. Typically, Cruise Captains occupy the Captain’s seat for three hours, the First Officer’s seat for three hours, and the remaining three hours in the crew rest facility.
A Cruise Captain position is not the same as a Captain position as they do not conduct take-off and landings. A Cruise relief Captain will normally take the left-hand seat at the cruise stage of the flight. Usually, a Cruise Captain is a Senior First Officer with extra training with more responsibility to support on the flight deck. The salary for Cruise Captain is not as high as a Captain as the responsibility is not as high.
However, depending on the airline, Cruise Captains can enjoy many benefits that higher-level positions do such as competitive salaries, annual bonuses, days off per month, and annual leave time. What’s more, since they fly longer flights, Cruise Captains enjoy some of the same advantages as aviators in the Captain position. For example, because you fly long hauls, you can get extended time off in new places and get to know other cultures and ways of life. In other words, being a Cruise Captain can be a rewarding experience with benefits far beyond how much you are paid.
Working as a Cruise Captain is a good stepping stone in a pilot’s career path because it allows you to gain experience and skills in the areas of cruise and command. The cruise phase of a flight is not that simple and requires alert, skilled, well-trained, and fully attentive pilots to detect any potential hazards. However, you should know that when applying for a new position it’s rare that an airline will accept a cruise captain for a captain position. Some airlines accept the hours flown as a Cruise Captain, which can be beneficial for an entry Captain position. However, it depends on each country’s regulations. Usually, airlines require some PIC hours experience and valid documents such as Medical, ATPL, and ICAO level 4+ to become a cruise relief captain.
Airlines assign relief crew members depending in part on the length of the flight and the official air regulations the airline operates under. This can include a Second officer and a Third officer. A Second officer is a pilot who usually has different duties than the first officer and is lower in rank to the First Officer. Typically, a Second Officer is used on international or long haul flights where more than two crew members are required to allow for adequate crew rest periods. As a result, Second Officers are also called Cruise relief on long haul flights. Although not as common nowadays, a Third Officer is lower in rank to a Second officer and has specific duties and can perform as a relief pilot.
Cruise Captains are valuable crewmembers who are important to the safe operation of airplanes conducting longer flights allowing the Captain and the First Officer to sleep so that they are well rested for landing. While Cruise Captains do not have the opportunities of a fully qualified Captain or First Officer, they enjoy one of the industry’s most challenging and rewarding careers in the sky as they follow their career path to becoming an airline Captain.
welcome aboard the new airside
We took our community to the next level with an elevated look, innovative features, and new tools.