It's when you get a truly bad captain that you find yourself in the conundrum long faced by FOs everywhere. You realize that the pilot next to you may well be unsafe, yet he (or she) has authority over the flight, and over you. What to do? None of your options are particularly appealing:
- You can be upfront with your concerns - if the captain was just being sloppy, he may shape up. But you may now be flying with an incompetent captain who's pissed at you.
- You can try passing along hints & suggestions in a subtle manner - but more than one captain has blown up at their FO for "encroaching on my authority!"
- You can pass along your concerns to the union's professional standards committee, or in a really bad case, the chief pilot's office, but that's a longer term solution, and the captain's friends can make life difficult for you in the meantime.
- You can sit by and do nothing, hoping the captain doesn't screw up too badly. Ultimately this is what many FOs have done. People have died because FOs sat meekly by, watching the incompetent, overbearing captain do something the FO knew was wrong. Accidents like these gave birth to our modern CRM (crew resource management) training programs.
You might ask what exactly makes a good captain. Here's my dream list.
- GC knows what he's doing. He knows and follows standardized procedures, and has a good grasp on aviation knowledge that gives me confidence in his decisions.
- GC seeks/accepts input when he's making a decision, but doesn't pass the buck on to me. I'm not the captain, dude, you are, so don't keep shrugging and saying "whatever you want to do."
- GC keeps an eye on the big picture. He does this by making me handle the grunt work, rather than doing everything himself only to mess up something important.
- GC lets me know when I screw up and gives me hints from the wealth of his captainly experience. This doesn't mean he needs to lord his Holy Captainness over me & nag over everything I do.
- GC is a generally cool guy who can make good conversation on a long leg or over a beer at the layover. He's got a sense of humor about things, but gets dead serious when he needs to be.
- GC cares about his crew and takes care of them. He helps them out when he can. He'll grace them with his presence at dinner if the crew is so inclined, and might even buy them a few drinks.