Non-Rated Aircrew: The Specialists of Aerial Work Aviation

In the Aerial Work aviation world, many specialized or Non-rated Aircrew professionals are critical in accomplishing the full spectrum of Aerial Work (AW) operations. To fully appreciate who these specialists are, Patrick Ryan will bring to light this community of unique and vital aircrew professionals and how they support multi-mission operations.

Patrick Ryan  |  23rd November 2023
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    Patrick Ryan
    Patrick Ryan

    Patrick Ryan brings over 30 years of experience as a Senior Consultant helping government and business...

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    When someone says Aerial Work "Aircrew," you usually think of Aerial Surveying Pilot, Aerial Firefighting Pilot, or Helicopter Flight Engineer. However, there are many other aircrew positions people don't routinely think of, which are equally important within the AW world. These professional positions are the non-rated Aircrew members who turn a General Aviation (GA) aircraft into a utility platform with their unique skills and kit. 

    With the expansion of technology, aircraft have gone beyond traditional transportation capabilities, providing unique AW services that didn't exist in the early years of aviation. Along with these new systems and capabilities, many types of aircrew specialist positions have come about or expanded in their previous roles to support these changes. One such community is the non-rated aircrew. 

    So, what is this unique group of AW aircrew, and how do they contribute to Aerial Work aviation and the aviation community? First, let's start with the baseline of "What is Aircrew"? and "What is a non-rated Aircrew Member?"

    The Definition of Aircrew 

    Aircrew refers to the group of individuals responsible for operating an aircraft. This team typically includes personnel essential for an aircraft's safe and efficient operation during flight. Their primary responsibilities may include controlling the aircraft, navigating, operating onboard systems, and ensuring the safety of passengers and cargo. Aircrew members may have different roles and titles depending on the aircraft type and mission, but they all work together to ensure the aircraft's successful operation.

     ...non-rated aircrew members may include individuals who perform support roles on an aircraft, such as loadmasters, sensor operators, flight medic, or various technical specialists.”

    What Defines a non-rated Aircrew Member? 

    A non-rated Aircrew member is an aircraft crew member who does not hold a specific "rating" in aviation. In aviation, a "rating" typically refers to a specific qualification or certification granted to individuals who have completed training and demonstrated proficiency in a particular role or function on an aircraft. Aviation authorities issue these ratings, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States or the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). 

    Specifically, rated aircrew members hold individual ratings that match their roles, such as pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, or other specialized roles. These individuals have undergone training and certification specific to their positions. 

    However, non-rated aircrew members may include individuals who perform support roles on an aircraft, such as loadmasters, sensor operators, flight medic, or various technical specialists. While they don't hold specific aviation authority-issued ratings like pilots or flight engineers, they play essential roles in ensuring the safe operation and functionality of the aircraft. Their responsibilities can vary depending on the aircraft type, mission, and organization they work for.

    What Is a non-rated Aerial Work Crewmember? 

    In its basic form, an Aerial Work non-rated aircrew member is an individual who performs specific roles and functions on an aircraft engaged in Aerial Work operations but does not hold a specific aviation rating. However, Aerial Work operations typically involve aircraft unrelated to scheduled commercial passenger or traditional cargo transport. Instead, they focus on very specialized tasks related to the Aerial Work world, such as:

    • Aerial Photography
    • Aerial Surveying & Mapping
    • Search and Rescue
    • Aerial Firefighting
    • Maritime Patrol
    • Police Aviation
    • Pipeline Monitoring
    • Humanitarian Relief
    • And many more…

     Even though these non-rated Aircrew members may not hold specific aviation ratings or certifications, many receive specialized training and may need to meet certain qualifications relevant to their specific roles. The exact responsibilities and qualifications can vary depending on the specific Aerial Work operation, the country's aviation regulations, and the organization employing these individuals. Like their rated teammates, these non-rated aircrew members should understand safety procedures and practices, as safety is paramount in Aerial Work operations. 

    As mentioned, Aerial Work aircrew members can vary in their roles and responsibilities depending on the aerial work operation. However, here are some core non-rated aircrew that you'll see actively flying every day around the globe:

    Flight Nurse & Medical Technician - A flight nurse or flight medical technician (often referred to as a Flight Medic) is a specialized healthcare professional who works on medical transport aircraft, such as air ambulances or medical evacuation helicopters. Their primary role is to provide patients with critical care and medical assistance during air transport, especially in emergencies and life-threatening situations.

    Airborne Sensor Operator - An airborne sensor operator, often abbreviated as ASO, is a trained specialist responsible for operating and managing various sensors and systems on aircraft, typically in the context of aerial surveying, police aviation, or scientific missions. These professionals work alongside pilots and other crew members to collect, analyze, and disseminate data obtained from onboard sensors. Some of the primary ASO positions are:

    • Aerial Mapping & Surveying Sensor Operator
    • Tactical Flight Officer
    • TV Broadcasting Camera Operator
    • Air-to-Air Photographer
    • Flight Inspection Systems Operator
    • Aerial Cinematographer
    • And many more…

    Helicopter Hoist Operator – A helicopter hoist operator, often referred to as a rescue hoist operator or helicopter rescue specialist, is a trained professional responsible for operating hoisting equipment on a helicopter, particularly in the context of search and rescue (SAR) missions, medical evacuations, and other operations that involve the retrieval of personnel or cargo from the ground or the sea.

    Helicopter Lineman – A helicopter lineman or aerial lineman is a highly specialized professional responsible for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining overhead electrical power lines and related equipment from a helicopter. This occupation plays a crucial role in the maintenance and reliability of electrical transmission and distribution systems, especially in areas with challenging terrain or hard-to-reach locations.

    Skydiving Loadmaster and Jumpmaster – A skydiving loadmaster and jumpmaster are two essential roles in skydiving operations, particularly in civilian skydiving clubs and organizations. Each role has distinct responsibilities related to aircraft loading, equipment inspection, exit supervision, landing assistance, etc. 

    Besides the above-mentioned non-rated positions, there are many other unique flight duty positions that support specific Aerial Work operations. Even though they're not leveraged daily like flight nurses, tactical flight officers, or hoist operators, they're still critical in accomplishing their specialized AW operation while safely participating as a crewmember. Here are some of these little-known airmen:

    Environmental Scientist – In environmental monitoring missions, scientists with expertise in environmental studies may be on board dedicated research aircraft to collect and analyze data. 

    Weather Specialist – In weather-related operations, meteorological experts may be part of a weather monitoring aircrew to provide real-time weather updates and guidance. 

    Aerial Archaeologist – Aerial archaeologists use various techniques and tools to examine the Earth's surface from the air, from both manned and unmanned aircraft, to identify and document archaeological remains that may not be as easily visible from the ground. 

    These are just a few examples, and there are many other specialized roles depending on the specific requirements of the Aerial Work operation. Again, the composition of the aircrew depends on the nature of the task, the equipment used, and the expertise required to ensure the safe and successful completion of the operation.

    Non-rated Aircrew challenges 

    While non-rated aircrews play vital roles in AW aviation, some potential challenges and drawbacks are associated with these positions. Many of which could lead to safety issues or inefficiencies in AW operations. Here are some of the challenges the non-rated aircrew field faces compared to rated aircrew positions:

    Task Simplicity – In some Aerial Work operations, the tasks may be relatively simple and not require extensive training or certification. For example, drone safety observers or aerial traffic reporters may not require extensive experience or specialized equipment.

    Low Regulatory Requirements – Regulatory authorities may have lower or no certification requirements for certain Aerial Work operations than commercial aviation or military operations. This is because the risks and complexities associated with different types of operations can vary significantly. Many aviation authorities don't have the staff or resources to manage such a broad spectrum of aircrew positions.

    Cost Considerations – Obtaining specific certifications and ratings can be expensive and time-consuming. In cases where the financial investment in training and certification outweighs the benefits, aircrew may operate without these credentials, especially if there are no regulatory requirements to have such ratings.

    Legacy Operations – Some Aerial Work non-rated Aircrew operations may have historical practices that predate or exist outside modern methods. In such cases, individuals with experience may continue to perform these tasks without seeking continuing training or certifications.

    Limited Standards – In some regions or countries, non-rated aircrew operating standards may be limited or non-existent, leading to consistency, quality, safety, and efficiency problems. With limited or no standards, inappropriate or outdated practices can result over time within a given non-rated crew position.

    It's important to note that even if certain Aerial Work aircrew members are not required to have the same level of certification as rated crew, safety remains a paramount concern. Regulatory authorities often have safety standards and guidelines for all aviation operations, including Aerial Work. However, the decision to require or not require certification or ratings for specific types of Aerial Work crew positions by regulatory agencies can significantly affect the quality or performance of certain aircrew positions.

    What is the future of non-rated Aerial Work aircrew? 

    Several key trends and developments will likely influence the future of Aerial Work non-rated aircrew in the aviation industry. While it's challenging to predict with certainty, here are some aspects that will shape or affect the future of Aerial Work aircrew:

    • technological advancements
    • changing safety and flight regulations
    • environmental concerns
    • better training platforms
    • data analytics
    • changing market demands
    • global connectivity
    • new types of Aerial Work applications
    • limited certification & rating programs  

    With this, both "non-rated" and "rated" Aerial Work aircrew must be resilient and adaptable. The ability of Aerial Work aircrew to adapt to changing circumstances and acquire new skills will be a valuable asset in the evolving aviation landscape. 

    Definitely, individuals in AW non-rated aircrew roles must stay updated on industry trends, regulations, and technological advancements to ensure their skills and expertise remain relevant and adaptable to the changing demands of their specific field. Additionally, more formal certification and rating programs must be implemented for these specific non-rated positions to correctly meet future demand either through government agencies or professional associations. Without such attentiveness, the aviation world, especially the Aerial Work sector, will be running many risks associated with safety and mission performance 


    As you can see, when someone says Aerial Work "Aircrew," it's just not a crop dusting or pipeline patrol pilot. However, there are many other specialized aircrew positions people don't normally think of, which are equally important within the AW world. In this case, non-rated Aircrew. 

    These crew members may include individuals performing support roles on an aircraft, such as loadmasters, sensor operators, flight nurses, or technical specialists. While they don't hold specific aviation authority-issued ratings like pilots or air navigators, they play essential roles in ensuring the safe operation and functionality of the aircraft. Their responsibilities can vary depending on the aircraft type, mission, and organization they work for. 

    Without a doubt, because Aerial Work aviation has a unique spectrum of industries and operations to sustenance, there is a critical need for such specialized operators with diverse skills and knowledge to support these missions. Without these non-rated aircrew specialists, the Aerial Work sector could not achieve the level of success it enjoys today and into the future!

    See all of our Multi-Mission articles at our online Multi-Mission Aircraft Hub  

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