I was wondering if there are regulations for when a flight requires both a pilot and copilot.
I always assumed a copilot is required once civilian passengers are aboard, but when I recently was a passenger in South-African and South-American sight seeing flights, the pilot was always flying alone. Flights in europe however always had a pilot and copilot.

Is this regulated by laws or can the pilot / airline company decide it on their own?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The difference you noted likely had to do with the size of the aircraft involved. Even in the U.S., there are some small aircraft in airline operation with only one pilot. These aircraft are very small for airline operations, though, such as the Cessna 208 Caravan. Most airline transport aircraft are much larger than this and are multi-crew. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Sep 11 '15 at 19:04

A flight requires pilot & copilot when the aircraft being flown requires it.

A multi-crew aeroplane is one that requires a flight crew of at least two pilots. One of them is the pilot-in-command (the captain) and the other is the co-pilot (or first officer). All jet air transport aeroplanes and the vast majority of turbine powered air transport aircraft and business jet are multi-crew aeroplanes.

The definition in Annex 1 — Personnel Licensing states that it is: "an aircraft required to be operated with a co-pilot as specified in the flight manual or by the air operator certificate."

So the secondary answer is no, it cannot be decided by a pilot or an operator, it is a statutory requirement.

  • $\begingroup$ Annex 1 of what? $\endgroup$
    – Holloway
    Sep 11 '15 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Trengot - good point, I thought I had linked that part. I must have forgotten. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Sep 11 '15 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ bah, and thanks to @JanHudec for fixing my awful linking ability. sigh $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Sep 11 '15 at 11:47
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ There is more to be answered here: There are rules which aircraft may be certified for single pilot operations and which may only be certified for multi-crew operation. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Sep 11 '15 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree. I was having trouble finding that so I put what I knew so far with the hope someone else could provide more info or I may have more time later. Didnt expect to be accepted answer so fast. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Sep 11 '15 at 11:54

There is no regulation to cover minimum crew when flying privately, other than as required by the airplane manual.

For commercial flights it gets a bit more complicated and the answer is, well, "it depends".

In EASA comercial flying the minimum crew compositon is defined here:

EU OPS (965) Subpart N

Ops 1.940 Composition of flight crew

(b) Minimum flight crew for operations under IFR or at night. For operations under IFR or at night, an operator shall ensure that:

  1. for all turbo-propeller aeroplanes with a maximum approved passenger seating configuration of more than nine and for all turbo-jet aeroplanes, the minimum flight crew is two pilots; or

  2. aeroplanes other than those covered by subparagraph (b)1 above are operated by a single pilot provided that the requirements of Appendix 2 to OPS 1.940 are satisfied. If the requirements of Appendix 2 are not satisfied, the minimum flight crew is two pilots.

And then the much longer Appendix 2 stating:

(a) Aeroplanes referred to in OPS 1.940(b)2 may be operated by a single pilot under IFR or at night when the following requirements are satisfied:

  1. the operator shall include in the Operations Manual a pilot's conversion and recurrent training programme which includes the additional requirements for a single pilot operation;

  2. in particular, the cockpit procedures must include:

(i) engine management and emergency handling;

(ii) use of normal, abnormal and emergency checklist;

(iii) ATC communication;

(iv) departure and approach procedures;

(v) autopilot management; and

(vi) use of simplified in-flight documentation;

  1. the recurrent checks required by OPS 1.965 shall be performed in the single-pilot role on the type or class of aeroplane in an environment representative of the operation;

  2. the pilot shall have a minimum of 50 hours flight time on the specific type or class of aeroplane under IFR of which 10 hours is as commander; and

  3. the minimum required recent experience for a pilot engaged in a single-pilot operation under IFR or at night shall be 5 IFR flights, including three instrument approaches, carried out during the preceding 90 days on the type or class of aeroplane in the single-pilot role. This requirement may be replaced by an IFR instrument approach check on the type or class of aeroplane

(text is copy-pasted since getting a working link to a consolidated version of EU-OPS is a pain)


In the United States there are 3 basic situations that generally lead to an aircraft being flow by 2 (or more) crew:

  1. The aircraft is categorized in the "air transport" class (eg commercial jets)
  2. The maximum takeoff weight of the aircraft exceeds 12,500 pounds
  3. The aircraft is so complex that the manufacturer recommends that it be flown by two pilots

Note that some aircraft, like variants of the 747, require 3 people because there is a station for an engineer.

In the old days the FAA used to require jets to be flown by two people, but now if a jet can come in under 12,000 pounds they can get certified for solo flight. There are a bunch of planes right now pegged at 12,500 and multiple manufacturers would like to go over that limit and still have them certified for solo flight, so there is some pressure on the FAA to relax the limit.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.