Why Do Airline Pilots Sit On The Left? (5 Reasons to Consider)

Boeing 737 Flight Deck
The Boeing 737 cockpit, Home away from home.

There is no doubt that a lot of people have thought, ” Why do pilots always sit in the left seat?”

Perhaps you may say that it is just a tradition and that is possibly the correct answer.

I would venture to say that there are some reasons that maybe you haven’t thought about.

I will give you some ideas you haven’t perhaps considered below.

Why Do Airline Pilots sit On The Left?

The main reason airline pilots sit on the left is safety. To avoid collisions with oncoming traffic. Most people are right hand dominant and it Is easier to reach radios controls and instruments with the right hand. It is easier to scan sequentially from the left, including that passengers load from the left.

1. Left Side Seating Provides a Safer View

I get to say it again here, safety is the absolute necessity and that part starts way before you even get close to the airplane.

But it also prevails in the cockpit and since it is situational awareness at all times sitting on the left side provides the best view of everything that’s going on.

Flying airplanes on instruments requires scanning everything in view sequentially all the time.

The left seat allows a quick scan of everything in the cockpit in a very short time frame.

Most airports also have a left traffic pattern which means that all of the turns made for the approach are to the left.

This is not the case for airports that may have a conflict that requires right turns to be made. For example, terrain or other considerations that may make it unsafe to fly a left turn pattern.

It is wise to be aware of such airports and to brief yourself properly to assure that you know your destination airport traffic pattern.

2. The Majority of People are Right Hand Dominant

It is said that left-handed people are smarter. Be that as it may, I will give it to them because the left side prevails in aviation.

You sit on the left and you may observe passengers load from the left.

You pass oncoming traffic on the left side.

I definitely prefer sitting on the left so that I can fly with my left hand (control the yolk), and manipulate the controls, instruments, and radios with my predominant right hand.

3. Engine Torque Creates a Left Turn Tendency

Everyone learning to fly an aircraft will learn all about torque from the engine and propeller that creates a left-turning tendency. Because of this when flying any single-engine airplane you must apply right rudder to maintain a straight track. Instructors may use the term “more right rudder”  quite often when the student doesn’t remain situationally aware. Other admonishments in the form of expletives may also accompany this statement if a student does not remember. This left turn tendency has become less important with today’s multi-engine airplanes with counter-rotating propellers.

Wright Brothers Model a
The Wright brothers model A the first two-seater aircraft.

4. Passengers Board the Aircraft From the Left

Airliners today have left-hand doors for loading and unloading passengers that are normally just aft of the main cabin and cockpit and galley area. The right-hand doors are reserved for the loading and unloading of supplies.

The smaller Cessna aircraft have two doors left and a right while the piper Cherokee has only one right-hand door for cabin access.

5. Tradition Aside (There is No Law)

There is no law or regulation that requires the pilot to sit on the left. It is a tradition that has been prevalent in aviation since the Wright brothers.

There is no Federal Aviation regulation or ((FAR’s) that states that the captain of the aircraft must sit in the left seat.

As in everything in aviation safety is prevalent.

The pilot in command of the aircraft may choose whichever seat he prefers if he has been trained properly to fly the airplane from the right.

Flight instructors will always sit in the right seat for training purposes and are qualified to fly from either seat.

Final Thoughts

So now we know that sitting in the left seat is all about safety (and tradition) and there is no rule or regulation that states that.

There have been airlines that stated in their “operations specifications” that the pilot in command must sit in the left seat.

You may encounter a flight where both pilots have 4 bars on their shoulders which means both pilots are qualified to fly the airplane as Captain. This is usually for training purposes.

Do be aware that even though a pilot may have only three bars on his shoulders, the first officer (FO) has been trained to “Captain” qualifications so he is fully qualified to fly the airplane.

Many companies and airlines today require that a pilot must have a type rating in the aircraft that he’s going to fly before he can apply for a job.

This simply means that he has been tested and trained to be a captain on that airplane even though he may not be sitting in the left seat.

A pilot must go through the seniority until his number comes up (sometimes it takes years) and the company offers him a position as “Captain”.

It has always been necessary to teach pilots about the left turn tendency of a single-engine airplane and during the world wars, the training airplanes were equipped with two sets of controls, (front and back).

Even the famous P51 World War Two fighter trainers were built with full controls front and back.

This airplane was tremendously famous for necessary rudder input, with 1400 horsepower as were all of the high horsepower single-engine airplanes so left turn tendency was more pronounced.

If you have spare change lying around you could purchase a P51 Mustang right now for about $2.2 million. Lots of fun!

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