The term "first officer" is often used to denote the second in command on a commercial flight. When solely considering the title of the first officer, it may seem as though this person is the most important person aboard a commercial flight, though this is not the case. In fact, the first officer is actually the co-pilot.
There is a form of hierarchy aboard any kind of airplane. The pilot, or captain, is the first person in command, while the first officer is the second in command. Both the pilot and co-pilot share responsibilities while aboard an aircraft, though the pilot is ultimately responsible for passengers, aircraft safety, and all crew members.
Often, a first officer has extensive flight experience due to military, or other, training. In some instances, a co-pilot may even have more experience than a pilot, though many commercial airlines often pick pilots according to seniority instead of experience. In any case, should something happen to a pilot, the first officer is then in charge of the aircraft.
In order to become a pilot, all interested applicants must first gain experience as a co-pilot. Thus, many co-pilots work for different kinds of airlines prior to applying for a job with a commercial airline. Some of these professionals begin by working as pilots for freight companies, since these companies are often willing to train new pilots. Others gain experience by enlisting in the military, or by working as flight instructors. No matter how experienced is gained, it is essential that all first officers work within the airline industry prior to applying for a job within a commercial airline.
Traditionally, a first officer will sit to the right of a captain while aboard a commercial airplane. Likewise, a senior first officer will also sit on the right side of an aircraft. Senior first officers are officers who have gone through all the necessary steps to become a commercial airline captain. When a company does not have an opening for the position of a captain, senior first officers often act as co-pilots.
Anyone interested in becoming a co-pilot should begin by gaining experience within the flight field. Once this type of necessary training has been obtained, individuals can then apply for jobs with commercial airline companies. While the position of a co-pilot is a tough one, this job is also highly rewarding.