Is there any way to relieve the Pilot in Command besides hijacking and incapacitation?

This question comes from a comment by rackandboneman, who says:

And whose authority is sufficient to make an active pilot in command a pilot out of command?

I gave a joking response, but it got me thinking: are there any ways to remove a PIC from command without that PIC's consent other than hijacking or incapacation, either in the United States or worldwide?

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    $\begingroup$ For cause or not for cause? I remember at least one instance that the pilot was acting strangely and the copilot locked him out of the cockpit. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    May 21, 2017 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer - Either, but the situation you describe is the kind of thing I was thinking about. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    May 21, 2017 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 - By involuntarily I mean without that person's consent. Forcible assumption of command is certainly involuntary, but (who knows) maybe Switzerland has a procedure where the captain, FO, and FE all vote, and if it's two to one against the captain, she or he is relieved of command. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    May 21, 2017 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveV. If it's Switzerland, wouldn't that rather be something like a 2/3 majority vote among everyone on board, including passengers? $\endgroup$
    – user
    May 22, 2017 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ Ae, being from Switzerland I think 500 passengers are likely to decide surprisingly correctly, but the time required to present the situation from all involved sides, in detail, and then build the consensus is difficult to achieve without aerial refuelling. $\endgroup$
    – h22
    May 22, 2017 at 16:05

4 Answers 4


The regulatory bodies are reluctant in defining a regulation for that. Because there are first officers who do not hold an Airline Transport Pilot License. The airlines would need to add an extra flight member for that rare situation.

Instead, it's up to each airline's SOP when it comes to Crew Resource Management. There are various assertiveness training models, of which are PACE, and CUS.

  • Probe-Alert-Challenge-Emergency
  • Concerned-Uncomfortable-Safety

Facing battery depletion following an electrical failure, here's an example for what the last step of PACE could have been like on October 11, 1983:

Captain, if you don't immediately reverse course and get back to night VFR conditions, I must take over control of the airplane. I cannot allow you to subject the passengers to such an unnecessary and high risk of certain death. Under these conditions, it is my duty and responsibility to relieve you of your command. (To Intervene or Not to Intervene? The Co-pilot's Catch 22)

Or, it can be much shorter when there's no time, such as asserting, "I have control," and pressing the TO/GA to initiate a go-around, for example.

Some airlines use only two steps, i.e., "I've mentioned my concern once, this will be the second and final time, else I'm taking command."

  • $\begingroup$ The "an example" link is broken. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Apr 23, 2019 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean: Fixed, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Apr 23, 2019 at 9:05

There was a case in 2012, where the captain started acting erratically on the flight deck. The first officer tricked him out of the cockpit and shut the door behind him. Passengers restrained the captain until an emergency landing could be made.

In a more recent similar case, a captain was removed before the flight had started because she demonstrated to the whole cabin that she was mentally unfit to fly.

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    $\begingroup$ Tricking somebody into lockout is a form of incapacitation, and an action rather than an authority? $\endgroup$ May 21, 2017 at 20:53

Seems that this has happened multiple times if there is something wrong with the Captains behaviour. If he is doing something that clearly endangers the flight, the remaining crew will at least attempt remove him from duty before its too late, regardless if there are rules defined for that or not. Japan Airlines Flight 350 can be an example. If the reasons of removal are obvious, this action is unlikely to be questioned later.


The short answer is no. Otherwise it's mutiny. That said it's exceptionally rare where one has to take control from the Captain, but not so much the Captain taking over from the F/O. The F/O is second in command of a ship. As such has a moral and legal responsibility to his Captain and to his charges. (F/A and pax). If, the Captain is unable to carry out his duties, the F/O must relieve him. On a sea faring ships only the Medical Officer could do this.


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