Common documentation easily found online (using A320 family as an example):

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What are they used for? What are the other major documents necessary to fly? Do they differ with manufacturers or airlines? Are they available on paper or display?

  • FCOM: This document has everything the flight crew might need to know about the aircraft during flight. It must be available on board and pilots refer to it for anything they don't want to, or shouldn't, rely on their memory for, mainly performance calculations and troubleshooting. It is provided by the aircraft manufacturer, but customized according to equipment of each particular airframe and SOP of the particular operator.

  • FCTM: This document describes what the flight crew must regularly train, usually on the simulator. It does not have to be on board.

  • SOP: This document describes the operation side of things. There may be additional restrictions on acceptable clearances, rules for using derated take-off thrust, communication protocol towards cabin crew etc. This is created by the operator. The procedure side of things is usually uniform across the fleet, but there are also restrictions pertaining to particular aircraft. Should be available on board.

  • QRH: Basically excerpt from the above documents containing checklists and tables, so they are easy to find when they are needed, usually when things go wrong. Of course, should be on board.


The documents legally required on-board differ by jurisdiction. I can only speak to the case here in the US which falls under the FAA. If the flight is between two jurisdictions there may be local regulations to comply with at your destination as well. For example if leaving the US all onboard must have their passports as well as any pertinent custom forms.

What are they used for?

Generally these documents are all used for reference. Here in the US its generally forbidden to read personal material in the cockpit however the pilots are free to read documentation relating to the aircraft and operations. They may chose to use time in flight to read up on things.

These documents also include emergency procedures that the crew may need to use in the event of a failure.

What are the other major documents necessary to fly?

Aside from what the plane needs the crew must also have current medical certificates and pilots license on their persons.

If we take a look at FAR 121.135

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section, no certificate holder may operate an aircraft unless that aircraft—

(1) Is registered as a civil aircraft of the United States and carries an appropriate current airworthiness certificate issued under this chapter; and

(2) Is in an airworthy condition and meets the applicable airworthiness requirements of this chapter, including those relating to identification and equipment.

(b) A certificate holder may use an approved weight and balance control system based on average, assumed, or estimated weight to comply with applicable airworthiness requirements and operating limitations.

(c) A certificate holder may operate in common carriage, and for the carriage of mail, a civil aircraft which is leased or chartered to it without crew and is registered in a country which is a party to the Convention on International Civil Aviation if—

(1) The aircraft carries an appropriate airworthiness certificate issued by the country of registration and meets the registration and identification requirements of that country; (2) The aircraft is of a type design which is approved under a U.S. type certificate and complies with all of the requirements of this chapter (14 CFR Chapter 1) that would be applicable to that aircraft were it registered in the United States, including the requirements which must be met for issuance of a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate (including type design conformity, condition for safe operation, and the noise, fuel venting, and engine emission requirements of this chapter), except that a U.S. registration certificate and a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate will not be issued for the aircraft; (3) The aircraft is operated by U.S.-certificated airmen employed by the certificate holder; and (4) The certificate holder files a copy of the aircraft lease or charter agreement with the FAA Aircraft Registry, Department of Transportation, 6400 South MacArthur Boulevard, Oklahoma City, OK (Mailing address: P.O. Box 25504, Oklahoma City, OK 73125).

Do they differ with manufacturers or airlines?

Airlines may publish excess documentation and checklists that meet or exceed the manufacture specifications this some airlines may have slightly varying procedures. Aircraft makers must publish documentation for the aircraft that includes its operational limitations you can find a good chunk of the regulations in the FAR's here. Specifically,

§23.1581 General.

(a) Furnishing information. An Airplane Flight Manual must be furnished with each airplane, and it must contain the following:

(1) Information required by §§23.1583 through 23.1589.

(2) Other information that is necessary for safe operation because of design, operating, or handling characteristics.

(3) Further information necessary to comply with the relevant operating rules.

(b) Approved information. (1) Except as provided in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, each part of the Airplane Flight Manual containing information prescribed in §§23.1583 through 23.1589 must be approved, segregated, identified and clearly distinguished from each unapproved part of that Airplane Flight Manual.

(2) The requirements of paragraph (b)(1) of this section do not apply to reciprocating engine-powered airplanes of 6,000 pounds or less maximum weight, if the following is met:

(i) Each part of the Airplane Flight Manual containing information prescribed in §23.1583 must be limited to such information, and must be approved, identified, and clearly distinguished from each other part of the Airplane Flight Manual.

(ii) The information prescribed in §§23.1585 through 23.1589 must be determined in accordance with the applicable requirements of this part and presented in its entirety in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.

(3) Each page of the Airplane Flight Manual containing information prescribed in this section must be of a type that is not easily erased, disfigured, or misplaced, and is capable of being inserted in a manual provided by the applicant, or in a folder, or in any other permanent binder.

(c) The units used in the Airplane Flight Manual must be the same as those marked on the appropriate instruments and placards.

(d) All Airplane Flight Manual operational airspeeds, unless otherwise specified, must be presented as indicated airspeeds.

(e) Provision must be made for stowing the Airplane Flight Manual in a suitable fixed container which is readily accessible to the pilot.

(f) Revisions and amendments. Each Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) must contain a means for recording the incorporation of revisions and amendments.

Are they available on paper or display?

Depends on the carrier, a great deal of movement to iPads and the such has seen the digitization of many things.

  • $\begingroup$ Where do you mention any of the documents specifically listed in the question? FCOM is apparently the same thing as AFM, but what about the rest? $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 7 '16 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ I will do some more research on the ones listed, this was an answer to the "other documents and those legally required" aspect of the question $\endgroup$ – Dave Jun 7 '16 at 17:20

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