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I would like to know, if an airline expects an applicant, who wants to become a pilot, to qualify from pilot (FO) to captain (CPT)? Is qualifying kind of mandatory or is it primarily a personal decision? I am asking because I do scientific investigation on pilot assessment. So if someone can share personal experience or even official articles and papers, I would be grateful.

EDIT: I have to add the background info, that the airline company is the provider of the apprenticeship (i.e. Lufthansa in germany).

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  • $\begingroup$ I’ve never heard of a First Officer position being considered an apprenticeship. After all, First Officers are trained, qualified pilots expected to be able to act as Pilot in Command at any point in time. In the US, everything about a pilot’s career is based on seniority. Because of this, some very qualified FOs choose to remain senior FOs in order to get the best schedules. Jeffrey Skiles is a perfect example of this. A better example of apprenticeship is the cadet programs of many airlines in clouding Lufthansa. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Oct 11 '20 at 14:57
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I would say that an airline will avoid hiring an applicant that is not assessed as eventual "captain material". It's not the maximum return on the airline's investment.

An applicant would never say in an interview that they only wanted to be a lifelong FO, except under special circumstances like an older hire who is likely to retire before meeting the experience requirements, or someone who has limiting medical conditions at hire (like the Type 1 diabetics who are now flying in some countries) that prevent them from qualifying for PIC.

An FO has to apply to upgrade to captain, so theoretically, someone can continue as an FO indefinitely (in a union operation at least), up to a point, but I think it would be career suicide to say so up front during the interviews.

It does happen though. An acquaintance of mine some years back was still copilot at a major airline, flying heavies, with somewhere around 25 years in. He finally upgraded to captain for the last years of his career. One of his motivations was he'd gotten to the point of being at the top of the seniority ladder for copilots.

He was making way less than he would as captain, but he didn't care about the money so much, and was more interested in the bidding benefits of being top of the heap in his "junior" heap in bidding for pairings, insofar as he got the best routes and the best schedules and the most time off. Upgrading to capt would mean he had to drop to smaller aircraft and a lower rung on the seniority ladder(back to working over Christmas, etc), and temporarily less money . He finally upgraded to capt more or less in response to management and peer pressure in his later years (he said at the time).

There are a number of websites that post interview Gouges ("gouge" is a slang word for intel reports on an airline's recruiting/interview practices) like here. These can give a good sense of the kind characteristics they are looking for, and you will never find one that advises people to state that they don't want to progress to captain.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some people also stay as FO until they have the seniority to hold a line as CA (reserve sucks), or to get the base they want (commuting sucks), even if it means giving up some pay. Nobody would fault those choices, but as you say, they’re temporary. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 11 '20 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ Back in the day when the lines ran a bit less lean staff wise, bidding reserve at a major meant only flying occasionally. Another guy I knew was a senior capt at a major and bid reserve all the time, because he only did about one overseas trip a month and was home running other affairs the other 3+ weeks. These guys all had businesses on the side because of all the time off. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Oct 11 '20 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ I know guys on reserve now who need to pick up OT just to stay current. But that’s due to COVID, not the norm. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Oct 11 '20 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnK - My understanding was that Jeffrey Skiles had his own full time home renovation/construction contracting business. He was flying as FO with over 20,000 flight hours. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Oct 11 '20 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of them also do it to have a ready alternative to move to if they medical out. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Oct 12 '20 at 1:05

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