What are the typical non-aircraft duties for an airline pilot?

By non-aircraft, I'm asking about time spent in the office, in meetings, training (whether in a simulator, class or other non-aircraft environment), deadheading or being at the airport but not actually in the aircraft.

I understand there is paperwork and pre-flight planning done on the ground between flights while in the cockpit, so I'm not asking about this. I'm really trying to get an idea about what other work related activities you do which does not involve you being in the cockpit (except perhaps purely as a work-related passenger).

Another way of asking this question would be, "what work besides flying planes does an airline pilot normally do, or might reasonably be expected to do, as part of his or her job?"

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Although the questions are different, but this answer explains several things which are needed in an answer for this question. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


There isn't much non-flying duty for airline pilots. The most important is recurrent training. Pilots are required to attend a refresher course at least annually. This school covers regulations, aircraft systems, and performance. The performance part involves computing weight and balance, airfield/weather restrictions, fuel required, etc (basically the same thing as a Cessna 172, but with much bigger numbers). Additionally, full flight simulators are used to teach and/or evaluate normal and non-normal (we don't get emergencies anymore) procedure. This training is usually concurrent with the groundschool. Pilots are required to maintain their approach charts and aircraft manuals; changes come frequently. A junior First Officer will spend an eternity (at least it seems like it) doing standby duty. This involves being available to take the place of any pilot who calls in sick or is otherwise unavailable. All pilots must pass a flight physical. The implication is that they must maintain themselves in at least minimal health.

I hope this at least partially answers your question.

  • $\begingroup$ Just to add to this - these requirements (refresher courses, flight simulation evaluations etc.) are exactly the same regardless of the experience and seniority. I have a friend who is a Captain with Southwest Airlines here in the U.S. for the last 11 years, and was a First-Officer for the first 6 years. So, a total of 17 years and counting with the same airline and he is still required to attend everything on a regular basis. $\endgroup$
    – RaajTram
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ @RaajTram there is some difference, e.g. if the airline isn't on a 9-month recurrent schedule for everyone then first officers get the sim once a year while captains get the sim every 6 months. Captains are also subject to line checks annually. The classroom groundschool (indoc, CRM, systems, etc) are the same for everyone. $\endgroup$
    – casey
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ I've been retired for 16 years, so I'm not at all up on what the current thinking is, but I'm really surprised by your statement that you don't get emergencies anymore. Does that mean you don't get such things as engine fires, engine out, emergency descents, loss of hydraulic pressure, etc. in simulator training now, or is it that these things are now considered simply non-normal as opposed to emergencies? $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Terry, I read that as "emergencies are now called 'non-normal', not emergencies", much like garbage men are now called "sanitation engineers". Of course, I might be wrong (but I hope not!). $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ They must also keep their manuals and navigation charts current, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 13:20

I think it depends on what kind of airline you are working for. If you are a pilot in a low-cost airline, preceding answers are precise. But for example, my wife is a pilot at Lufthansa, and they have their own engineering, own maintenance, repair & overhaul divisions etc., so they have a lot of "staff pilots" who spend about 50% of their time in the offices.

Examples are:

  • management pilots like fleet captains (the formal boss of the pilots of a specific a/c type)
  • technical pilot (writing procedures, discussing with manufacturers etc.)
  • project pilots (pilots with more background like IT or an MBA who can bring both worlds together)

The CEO of Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, is a pilot himself, but do not think that he has any time to fly anymore.

I think most of the pilots like to fly, but some of them want to spend some time in the office either to be at home or to advance their careers.

  • $\begingroup$ Great insight! Thanks for the answer and welcome! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 13:10

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