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Home > Flying the Plane > Why a Captain sits on the left side of a plane?
Why a Captain sits on the left side of a plane?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Monday, 07 January 2013 15:28

Pilot’s Eye View from A330 Cockpit – Frankfurt to Seattle
Hi Captain Lim,

Why a Captain sits on the left side of a plane in the cockpit?


Hi Michael,

I have answered this question in the April 2011 issue of the Travel 3Sixty magazine. It is reproduced below for your reading pleasure.

In an aircraft’s cockpit, the captain always sits on the left side and this has raised queries as to why he never sits on the right. The reason for this in a commercial jetliner seems to be rather historical. It is like asking why some cars are left-hand drive whilst others are right-hand drive

At the end of the World War I, most fighter aircraft were designed and fitted with rotary engines. When it came to steering these rotary-engine aircraft, turning to the left was easier because it followed the torque of the engine, whereas turning to the right was harder, as it was against the torque (twisting) forces. Hence, it would require more rudder movement to compensate for the forces. Because of this, pilots chose to turn left as a more convenient manoeuvre and thus, most traffic patterns in the air around airfields involved mainly left turns.

When bigger planes were designed with side-to-side seating, the co-pilot was made to sit on the right. The left-hand seat was made exclusively for the captain. It comes with complete flight instruments and controls. This seat also afforded better visibility with the assumption that more frequent left turns are made during the flight.

During the early days of aviation, the fact that the pilot was occupying the left seat made it logical for the aircraft to keep to the right side along the airways. Early aviators would often navigate visually by following roads and railways. Opposite traffic along the same line would then pass each other on the left. Because of the tradition that arose from the rotary engines, jet planes today continue having the captain sitting on the left-hand side of the cockpit.

However, there are some exceptions to this tradition. Helicopter captains sit on the right hand side of the cockpits and some airline captains also do so because they are instructors training new captains.

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Comments (3)

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curious george
Interesting. I wonder why the rotary engine was designed to turn (I'm assuming, based on the torque explanation) clockwise? To conform to clocks? Well they had to choose one way, so why not.
roger , 30 Nov, 2013
How about opposing controls?
On most aircraft, the controls and displays for the copilot are often identical to the captains side.

But what if there are opposing controls - for example the sidestick on an airbus? In terms of instinctive muscle movement, for a captain to bank an airbus to the left, they move the stick away from their body. But on the other side, one would move the stick towards their body.

Can the PIC not choose to sit on a preferred side?
Ash , 11 Feb, 2016
What about Josticks - Surely it's dangerous now with most people being right handed
Simple question.

Surely sitting on the left side in a joy stick controlled plane is dangerous now as most people are right handed and only have very limited use / co-ordination of their non dominant left hand.

Would it not make more sense now to order a cockpit (at least on private non yoke aircraft) with the instruments arranged for the captain to be on the right - so its joystick control with the right hand and throttle controls with the left?
Al , 15 Nov, 2016

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