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Photo: Lars Daniel Terkelsen
Photo: Lars Daniel Terkelsen

Ask the pilot: Is it called port and starboard on airplanes?

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Hi,

Are the left and right sides of airplanes referred to as the port and starboard sides, like they are on ships? And if so, why is the captain’s seat located on the port side of an airplane but on the starboard side of a ship?

Caj

Jimisola Laursen        

Age: 40
Career: Joined SAS in 2014. Has flown CRJ900s and 737NGs. Started flying the ­Airbus A320 in 2016. A former track athlete and a 400m indoor Nordic Record Holder.
Home base: CPH
Flies: Airbus 319/320/321
Flight hours: 4,200

Hello Caj,

I’m familiar with the terms port and starboard, but I’ve never used them myself for aviation and I have not heard colleagues use these terms. We normally just say left and right, based on looking towards the cockpit from inside the airplane.

There is no obvious benefit in modern airplanes as the left and right-hand sides of the cockpit have almost identical flight instrumentation, and the same buttons and switches are accessible from both sides.

Having said that, there are some practical reasons why the seats are located this way. For example, traffic patterns around airfields mainly involve left turns, so it’s easier to keep the airfield in sight from the left side of the airplane. And at today’s airports, bridges at gates connect to the left hand side of the airplane, making the left side a more favorable place from which the Captain can make visual references during parking and communicate with ground staff.

I could not find any single reason to explain why the captain’s seat is on the left, so in conclusion, I think it is safest to say that it has simply always been like that.

First Officer Jimisola Laursen

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