Is there a distinction between a cockpit and a flight deck on an aircraft, or are the terms interchangeable?

Boeing refers to the flight deck The new Flight-Deck Displays and Airbus refers to the cockpit Passenger Aircraft>Cockpits

Based on this image,

Vice President Dick Cheney inside a B-2 cockpit with pilot Capt. Luke Jayne during a visit to Whiteman AFB, 2006

would the B-2 be described as having a cockpit or a flight deck, or is there not enough information in this image?

  • $\begingroup$ Well if you ask an FO, it's a flight deck untill the captain steps in... $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Oct 17, 2019 at 15:56

4 Answers 4


They refer to the same thing, but there is some separation between the terms, especially in the military. A cockpit is a hole with a seat that you strap into for the entire flight. A flight deck is a larger version of a cockpit, where you can at least leave your seat and walk behind it.

The traditional nautical term "cockpit" referred to a fairly small steering station at the top of the ship. Boeing introduced the term "Flight deck" post-WWII for their larger aircraft, to indicate the difference, and it has spread somewhat. A heavy's flight deck is still a cockpit, and can be referred to as such, but a "pointy's" (jet fighter) cockpit is very unlikely to be called a flight deck in speech.

In general and civil aviation, the terms are pretty much interchangeable. Still, a Ultralight Aircraft's cockpit is not a flight deck, so there is a strong connotation of a flight deck actually being a deck.

The B-2 has a flight deck, so do some fighters like the Su-34. Both can be called a cockpit as well. Basically, solo or tandem seating with entry through the canopy = "cockpit". Side-by-side seating with side door or bottom hatch entry = either "flight deck" or "cockpit".

This distinction is largely English-specific. Powered flight was being concurrently developed in France and Russia, and many languages ended up following their convention ("Piloting post/cabin" and "Crew cabin" respectively), where no term distinction was ever created.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I assume the term pointy refers an aircraft with a very narrow area where the pilot sits and cannot get up and move around. Technically wouldn't the images from both Airbus and Boeing be of flight decks? $\endgroup$
    – Bob516
    Jun 29, 2019 at 13:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Bob516 Pointy = jet fighter (because of their pointy noses). I deliberately used jargon, because this is very much an English-specific jargon/terminology question. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Jun 29, 2019 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ Flight decks are cockpits, much like squares are rectangles. The inverse is not true. $\endgroup$
    – T.J.L.
    Oct 17, 2019 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ "Cockpit" was the cockfights arena. Used to refer to a lower deck portion on a military ship where wounded people were looked after (attested as far as 1706 in French language). This place was allocated to young officers when not needed otherwise. For civil boats, the place for the helmsman and the crew (1878). Later (1887) used to refer to the bottom place in a small boat where people could seat. In 1915, used in aviation for the open sky place where pilot (s) could be seated. Pit refers to the bottom, deck is "above" (closing the hull of a ship). $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Dec 16, 2020 at 14:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Congratulations on this answer making it into the official Congressional Report on the crashes of the 737 MAX! (it's on page 8) $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    May 16, 2021 at 3:08

The terms are one in the same. Cockpit is a little more archaic and derives from a nautical term used by the Royal Navy. But both terms mean the section of an aircraft where the flight crew is stationed in order to command and control the flight of that aircraft.


Of interest: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-a-cockpit-called-a-cockpit. Note the reference to the term "cockpit" originally referring to a below-deck compartment in a ship (is this really accurate?), and also the reference to the term "flight deck" orginating with flying boats. Another answer suggests the use of the "cockpit" term in the nautical context goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and is a connected with the term "coxwain".

Here's another source emphasizing the original below-deck connotation for the nautical use of "cockpit": http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/history/q0064.shtml

Obviously, in the aviation context, "cockpit" is the older term.

"Flight deck" has a connotation of some amount of open space, while "cockpit" has a connotation of a confined space. The usage of both terms has expanded beyond these connotations, but more so for "cockpit" than for "flight deck".

It seems intuitive that to merit the term "flight deck", at least one and usually all of the following should be true:

  • During flight, you can walk to the area from another part of the plane
  • You can move about the area in flight to some extent (change seats, stand up, something.)
  • There is well-defined, mostly flat floor throughout a good portion of the area.
  • $\begingroup$ "the term "cockpit" originally referring to a below-deck compartment in a ship (is this really accurate?)" I think so, and not only in English. I posted a general comment below the accepted answer. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Dec 16, 2020 at 15:11

Some organizations prefer one term in their style guide, while others prefer the other. There is no substantive difference between them that I've ever encountered.


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