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I just watched a video about the crash of Air India Express flight 1344

Part of the reason for the crash was apparently, that only the captain was allowed to land the plane on this airport and that the windscreen wiper on the captain's side failed, so he had reduced visibility.

Would it be allowed for the captain and the first officer to swap their seats, so that the captain can still land the plane with a working windscreen wiper?

(I know, this wasn't the only reason for the crash, just wondering in general.)

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Usually, this would not be permitted by the airline. First officers (FOs) are trained to fly from the right-hand side and captains are usually only trained to fly from the left-hand side. The captain may previously have been an FO on this aircraft type (possibly long ago), but could also have become a captain on another type and then transitioned, so they may have no experience flying this type from the right.

The only exception here is a line training captain. These captains are specifically trained to fly from both sides because they also do line checks of other captains (and therefore have to sit on the right during such checks). But even then, the FO would not be trained to fly (or even just monitor) from the left-hand seat. Therefore, for normal operations the answer is clearly no.

However, you are asking about an emergency. If the captain thinks the only way to safely land the plane is to switch seats, then they are allowed to do it. This kind of discretion is typically allowed in an emergency, e.g. in Europe:

NCO.GEN.105 Pilot-in-command responsibilities and authority

(e) The pilot-in-command shall, in an emergency situation that requires immediate decision and action, take any action he/she considers necessary under the circumstances in accordance with 7.d of Annex IV to Regulation (EC) No 216/2008. In such cases he/she may deviate from rules, operational procedures and methods in the interest of safety.

(EASA Easy Access Rules for Air Operations)

Whether switching seats is actually helpful in the situation you described really depends on the details of the situation. How experienced is the captain flying from the right-hand side? If they have never flown this type from the right, I doubt switching sides would improve safety. How much experience does the FO have? If the captain trusts the FO to do the landing, despite flying into a captain-only airport, it might be better to let the FO fly.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, having to deal with the fall-out of letting the FO land the plane when he shouldn't have is a much better option than being dead. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Sep 6, 2022 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detailed answer! In the situation of the video, the broken wiper wasn't the only or even the main reason for the crash, but in other situations something broken on the captain's side might be (e.g. broken controls or instrument displays). I didn't consider how asymmetric a jetliner's cockpit is. I've only ever been in the cockpit of a tiny 5-seater, and there the controls were almost symmetrical. Didn't know that the pilots were trained that much towards using just one side of the plane. $\endgroup$
    – Dakkaron
    Sep 7, 2022 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Yes, being dead isn't helpful for the career either^^ $\endgroup$
    – Dakkaron
    Sep 7, 2022 at 11:22
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I don't know the circumstances related to this particular crash. And, I have never flown anything bigger than a small turboprop. However, I have flown in some pretty horrendous weather and the wipers help, but not that much. I wonder if the nose-wheel steering control on the captain's side might be a good reason for the captain to keep his normal seat.

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    $\begingroup$ Nose wheel steering is also controlled via the rudder pedals (up to 7° on the B737). You wouldn't use the tiller during takeoff and landing. You switch to the tiller once slowed down to taxi speed. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Sep 7, 2022 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for that clarification. It is something that I have always wondered about. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2022 at 17:39
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There's no law against swapping seats as far as I know, but it isn't advisable. The location of switches, controls and instruments is different to each position, and training is specific to those positions so that the knowledge is ingrained. If the captain and first officer switched positions both would be unfamiliar with the positions of some controls and would be using the opposite hands to control stick and throttle, which would be a much higher risk than a broken wiper. You don't want the handling pilot to forget where the flaps are on a bad weather approach!

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    $\begingroup$ Airliners are anything but basic @Jpe61. Cockpit familiarization is a big part of training, this is so pilots aren't hunting around for switches. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Sep 6, 2022 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD, first, there are exceptions, but most captains have considerable time as a first officer in the right seat of their equipment. Second, what switches do you think the pilot flying needs to switch once configured for landing and on a stabilized approach? $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2022 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ Switching seats IS a big deal in a modern airliner. To say otherwise shows you have never done it. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2022 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ Lost in this is the difference between two situations. In normal flight operations a crew should NOT ever be depending on muscle memory and blindly reaching for a configuration item. Config changes should be more deliberate—announce, look, touch. But in an emergency, the crew may have to rely on rote/muscle memory, so there could be a downside to swapping. But crisis impairs our fine motor skills significantly, thus looking becomes more important. If this was US/NTSB, one branch of investigation would be how a procedure came to require the captain to be the flying pilot. $\endgroup$
    – Max R
    Sep 6, 2022 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you did transition from the right seat to the left seat, on the same aircraft, it only takes a short time before you forget the “flows” from the other seat. When placed in the wrong seat at short notice, your brain turns to mush and your hands reach for the wrong spot on panel. Captains reach up with their right hand while FOs reach up with their left hand. Switch seats and watch them fumble around. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2022 at 23:33

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