What hours count towards the total number of flight hours?

In a long haul flight, do all the hours of the flight count towards the total? Even if the pilot is resting?

Do 10 short flights of 1 hour (that is, 10 times take-off and 10 times landing) count the same as 1 flight of 10 hours (1 take-off, 1 landing)?

Is it possible that two pilots with 1,000 hour have a totally different real flight experience on their back?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you say which jurisdiction you're asking about? For example, in the US pilots must log certain times but not others. And 1000 hours in a Cessna 152 are not the same as 1000 in an Airbus A380, but I assume that's obvious :-) $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Mar 29, 2015 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ I was wondering this too. I've heard people say "I have 10,000 hours experience in a 747" or whatever, but how much does that matter? I guess for airline operations, it means you've been a 747 pilot for at least 10 years, which is something. $\endgroup$ Mar 29, 2015 at 2:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife: I wonder for the US/Canada, Europe. And yes, the Cessna/Airbus difference is obvious, like many other qualitative differences between the same amount of hours. However, the question is about differences that do not get logged. $\endgroup$ Mar 29, 2015 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ Well that was interesting... no answers for an hour and 3 within about 15 seconds of each other. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 29, 2015 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ And interesting, @reirab, that they are 3 totally different answers. I believe that shows that while this question is too broad to get a good answer, it's an excellent question! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Mar 29, 2015 at 13:49

3 Answers 3


As far as what hours are logged, there are a couple of different ways to do the counting. On a light aircraft, time on the Hobbes meter is generally used, which equates to "engine running" time. In the military, it's takeoff to landing, usually plus a small amount for taxi time (which may or may not account for all the time that the pilot is actually operating the aircraft). In the airlines, it's "block to block" time, so pushing back from the gate until stopping at the gate.

As far as the time all being equal, it isn't. Not even close. 2000 hours flown from Big Airport A to Big Airport B, 8 hours at a shot, means about 125 takeoffs, approaches, and landings flown, and an equal number monitored. Almost all of those are radar vectors to an ILS approach -- very standard & predictable. Five hundred hours as a pilot training instructor probably translates into about 500 landings performed, and many, many more supervised, with a great variety of approaches flown (visual, precision, non-precision, practice emergency patterns, etc) The "hands on" time on the controls of a military fighter pilot in 500 hours logged is far greater than the hands on time during 2000 hour trans-Atlantic airline flying.

The problem is, "hours" is the currency that we have, and so that's how experience is measured. Not because it's a great measure, but because anything more granular becomes very complicated and subjective. Does my 1000 hours flying Lear jets count for more than your 1200 hours flying a King Air? One's a jet, the other a turboprop. Did one of us fly 3-hour legs mostly on autopilot on clear days, while the other flew 30 minutes at a time, much by hand, with lots of instrument approaches in bad weather? Who flew with veteran copilots, and who flew with copilots brand new in the airplane? Who flew to lots of unfamiliar destinations, and who flew the same canned route(s) day after day? And how does any of that compare with 3000 hours in a C-5? Or 800 hours in a crop duster?

All of this to say, that "hours is hours", while it overlooks a LOT of very relevant distinctions between some very diverse types of flying, is still the quick and easy comparison between pilots. Not because it's wonderfully accurate, but because it's possible (we all log hours, after all), and the more detailed comparisons quickly become hard to objectively make.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, regarding the training issue, when practicing landings, an hour of training can equate to 8 or so landings... and essentially no navigation at all (unless looking to your left and seeing "yep, there's the runway" counts as navigation.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 29, 2015 at 3:58
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I believe that you meant the Hobbs meter. Calvin's friend has nothing to do with it that I know of. :-) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Mar 30, 2015 at 13:38

I don't fully understand what you're asking, but here's an attempt to cover the main interpretations (as I see them) from a US perspective:

  • When a pilot says "I have 1000 hours", where does that number come from?

    Pilots have to log their flight time for various reasons (see this question and the logging tag), some legal and some personal. It's a fairly safe bet that anyone with more than - let's say - one hundred hours has flown more than that, at least for some definition of "flown". One key number is PIC time, i.e. the time that the pilot was legally responsible for the flight, but there are different practices and legal requirements so the numbers will never be consistent between pilots. And a private pilot who 'only' flies his family around in a Cessna 182 will end up with different logged time from a professional pilot who flies an A380 with hundreds of passengers, even if both have spent roughly the same number of hours "at the controls" (which isn't clearly defined anyway).

  • What time do airline pilots count towards their 'total'?

    This depends on who's counting. The people who care are the FAA (or other authorities) for legal currency and training purposes; the airline (i.e. employer) for pay, seniority and scheduling reasons; and the insurance companies for coverage. All these people will have different views of what "time" means, although PIC time is usually the most fundamental measure. But in airline operations especially, SIC is also well-defined and important.

  • When two pilots say "I have 1000 hours in A320s" (or whatever), do they have the same level of skill and experience?

    This is impossible to answer. Take two 30 year-old American men (for example) from the same state who have been driving the same make and model of car every day since they were 16 with no accidents or police tickets. Are they equally good drivers or not? Legally speaking yes: they have the same licenses, background and driving record. But most people would agree from personal experience that they know of a "lucky driver" who has avoided police trouble for years despite driving riskily. Fortunately pilots are more strictly regulated than drivers and the flight and medical checks are much more frequent, so the differences are correspondingly smaller.

Of course I'm completely ignoring the operational experiences, e.g. a pilot who flies between JFK and Atlanta every day will accumulate different experience from one who flies between JFK and Podunk. And does Sully's experience make him different from someone else with exactly the same number of PIC hours in the same aircraft models but who didn't land in the Hudson?

I have the feeling that you're trying to ask if someone with more hours is generally a 'safer' or 'better' pilot (I may be completely wrong about this). If so, the short answer is no: it's impossible to compare two people's experiences directly anyway, and it's commonly said in aviation that it's better to fly 1,000 different hours than to fly the same hour 1,000 times. This applies to many other areas of life too :-)

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I like your last sentence: it's better to fly 1,000 different hours than to fly the same hour 1,000 times $\endgroup$
    – kevin
    Mar 29, 2015 at 6:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @kevin Don't get married then xD $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Sep 20, 2018 at 8:09

For the United States, the relevant regulation is 14 CFR 61.51, which defines requirements for pilot logbook entries. In general, hours will be logged as one of the following categories:

  • Pilot-in-Command
  • Second-in-Command
  • Training (i.e. Instruction Received)

Student pilots will log either as Training when flying with an instructor or as pilot-in-command when flying solo. Non-student pilots will log either pilot-in-command (when the Captain or the only pilot) or second-in-command (when acting as First Officer.) For purposes of total hours, all of the above are included.

Apart from the above categories, hours flown solo, in instrument flight conditions, and at night are tracked separately. These factors don't have any bearing on your total hours, but do matter for satisfying pilot certificate eligibility or currency requirements.Flight cycles (number of landings and takeoffs) don't matter in terms of total hours, but number of landings is also logged as a separate parameter.

14 CFR 61.51(e) says the following regarding what can be logged as pilot-in-command time:

(e) Logging pilot-in-command flight time. (1) A sport, recreational, private, commercial, or airline transport pilot may log pilot in command flight time for flights-

(i) When the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls of an aircraft for which the pilot is rated, or has sport pilot privileges for that category and class of aircraft, if the aircraft class rating is appropriate;

(ii) When the pilot is the sole occupant in the aircraft;

(iii) When the pilot, except for a holder of a sport or recreational pilot certificate, acts as pilot in command of an aircraft for which more than one pilot is required under the type certification of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted; or

(iv) When the pilot performs the duties of pilot in command while under the supervision of a qualified pilot in command

As far as whether rest time counts when operating long-haul flights, I wasn't able to find a definitive answer. The regulations in 14 CFR 61.51 don't seem to be terribly clear on that point. Even reading what actual pilots flying such flights have done seems to show that different pilots have handled it different ways with some logging all of the hours, some logging only when they were 'in the seat,' and others logging a given fraction of the flight time (e.g. logging 2/3 of the time on a 3-man crew where one rotates out to rest.) Perhaps one of our pilots with long-haul experience around here can provide more insight on this.

As far as the title question of how 'meaningful' the total hours are, that's a rather subjective question on which different people will have different opinions. Regarding your last question, certainly not every 1,000 hour pilot will have exactly equal experience, but how different their experience may be will vary quite a lot between any given set of two 1,000 hour pilots. It's entirely possible to be a 1,000 hour pilot without ever having sat in a powered airplane (by flying gliders, helicopters, etc.,) for instance.


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