Yes I know, Captain has authority over First Officer.

I was reading about Airblue Flight 202 and according to the investigation, First Officer said these words 40 seconds before crash:

Sir turn left, Pull Up Sir. Sir pull Up.

Although many sources have questioned the investigation and its subsequent report, because of several facts including how the captain with over 25,000 hours and an unblemished flight safety record could make such mistake when he is so much familiar with the terrain etc., my question isn't about that.

What I want to know is that in case of an emergency or a similar incident of an imminent crash (as mentioned above), can a captain order the First Officer not to touch anything, or ignores his warnings or simply not listen to him at all? What the First Officer has to do or can do?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Even if there were legal print somewhere that entitled the captain to order the FO to let him fly into terrain, surely being alive-but-facing-discipline would still be preferable to complying? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 18:14

3 Answers 3


Authority in the cockpit, especially in emergency, is very important in a principle called Crew Resource Managment, or CRM. A number of incidents similar to your example led to the formulation of this concept to enhance the coordination between the crew. The idea is that all crew members should be working together as effectively as possible to solve the problems at hand.

In emergencies, the crew need to be able to communicate. This means that the first officer should be willing to question the Captain, like they did in your example. They should also be willing to take action if they feel it necessary. However, communicating this action is also important, as evidenced in the crash of Air France 447, where the pilots were commanding different inputs.

Neither of the pilots should be ordering the other to do anything unless absolutely necessary. They need to get the attention of the other pilot, state the problem, say why it's a problem, and suggest a solution to the problem. Then they need to agree on a plan of action, and be clear about who is in control.

In your example, the captain's negative attitude may have prevented the first officer from saying anything more. A better response from the first officer would have been to say something more along the lines of, "Sir, we are flying towards high terrain, we are not flying high enough to clear it. We need to either climb over it or turn left to avoid it. Do you agree?" This makes it clear to the captain what problem the first officer sees, and is clear about how the first officer thinks they should respond. It also includes a direct question for the captain to answer. Both pilots should be ready to communicate like this if necessary, and should also be making sure that they aren't creating an environment where the other pilot isn't comfortable with doing so. If the first officer still got no response, he should have been willing to take control, and should communicate to the captain that he is doing so, including the previously stated information about what actions he intends to take.

  • $\begingroup$ So in this situation it might be appropriate for the first officer to take the controls and pull up, but they'd say something about it? ("my aircraft") $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 The key is communication. Either the first officer should tell the captain what to do (like he did) or he should do it himself. But they need to communicate with each other so they are both in agreement about the situation, and it's clear who is in control. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 14:45

It's entirely reasonable for the First Officer to take control if he or she seems it necessary. Especially if the captain isn't responding to prompts for corrective action.

There are techniques you can use, in this example the FO called the captain 'sir'. If you normally address them by they're first name you could try 'sir' or 'captain'. You could recommend the take a turn or climb with increasing assertiveness.

If they fail to respond. You state 'I have control...' And tell them why. If they're not responding to prompts it's unlikely they'll be any resistance, they've probably lost situational awareness.


Adding this to other's answers, the First Officer (FO) is also a member of the crew. He or she, is therefore, also responsible for ensuring the safety of the aircraft to the best of his / her ability.

The FO has a control column and primary display identical to the Captain's. In a situation like this, it is essential for the FO to override the decision of the Captain. I can't say for all airlines, but I know certain airlines do practice the following scenarios in CRM trainings:

  • Pilot incapacitation
  • Pilot disorientation
  • A senior crew member performing incorrectly which compromises the safety of the aircraft

The GIST here is that the PF (pilot flying) may or may not recognize something is wrong. The PM (pilot monitoring) has to, using his experience as a superior pilot judgment,

  1. Voice out his concerns
  2. Suggest corrective actions
  3. take over control when deemed necessary

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