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Reading various reports including number of flight hours of the pilots I always wonder how it relates to years of service. In most professions, people work 40 hours a week, which gives around 1900 hours a year (assuming 4-5 weeks vacation as is usual in Europe). But pilots seem to have much fewer flight hours. I even read that in certain military operation the norm was 750 hours in a year. But that was difficult military operation and I haven't seen any number for common airline operations.

So how many flight hours is usual for full-time airline pilot to log in a year? And what does he do in the rest of his duty time? Or does he have less duty time than the usual 40 hours a week?

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Flight hours are limited to 30 hours in 7 days, 100 hours in a month and 1000 in a year. Scheduling rules also say I need at least 1 day off a week, so 6 day trips are the max for me (121 US domestic scheduled).

Let's look at a typical trip, which at my company tended to be a 4 day trip. You want good productive trips, but you can't always get them. On a 4 day trip let's say I have 6 hours of flight scheduled each day, or 24 hours scheduled that week. I am getting paid the better of 24 hours or the actual flight time. Now let's look at my duty day. For a 6 hour day with 4 legs it was not unheard of to have a 12 hour duty day. So now for a 4 day trip, I'm "at work" 48 hours and being paid for half of that. Now consider that I'm not going home every night and my trip starts at 6 am on Friday and ends at midnight Monday night -- that totals to 90 hours away from home.

How does this compare to a 40 hour work week in an office? In that case you are on duty 40 hours, getting paid 40 hours (or salary) and if you have a 1 hour commute one way, you are spending 50 hours away from home.

Back to the flight schedule. A given month will have trips less productive than 24 hours and although you can probably build a 96 hour month if you tried, the average line of flying is typically going to be 75 hours of flying. You can ballpark that will equate to 150 duty hours and 300 hours away from home for the month.

Extrapolate that to a year, and you have 900 flight hours, 1800 duty hours and 3600 hours away from home. I would say this represents the average US domestic 121 pilot. Some do more, some do less, but this is pretty typical.

What do we do with all of that duty time that isn't flying? Let's see:

  • Eating
  • Updating charts
  • Checking the weather
  • Checking the paperwork
  • Coordinating with gate agents, ramp agents, fuel agents to make sure we leave on time
  • Programming the FMS and getting our IFR clearance
  • Preflighting the airplane
  • Postflighting the airplane
  • Doing the weight and balance
  • Sleeping

Note, that all of these activities require we are at the airport, in the secure area and we are not being paid. The pay clock starts (roughly) when the airplane is buttoned up and the parking brake is released and ends when the parking brake is set and main cabin door opened.

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    $\begingroup$ ...and for some perspective, starting wage for a first officer at American Eagle is $25.46/(flight) hour. (at least it was in 2014) $\endgroup$ – Canuk Oct 9 '14 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ Hold on, how is if legal to not pay you for operations that the airline (and sometimes FAA) are requiring you to do? The airline only pays you for some portion of your job? $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Oct 9 '14 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 - it's the same for the flight attendants (they aren't paid on the ground), which is why I go out of my way to be helpful to them during boarding/disembarkation. Sucks, but those are the payment rules that the airline/union signed. $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Jan 24 '15 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @raptortech97: You are paid for job. What the rate is based on is up to agreement and the usual metrics in aviation is flight hours, probably because they are easier to keep track of than total hours. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 23 '15 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters as does pretty much all of the general public, reminds me of the "you're a commercial pilot? what airline do you fly for?" I'd get when I was instructing. I edited the Q title s/commercial/airline/ to match the question content. $\endgroup$ – casey Jan 29 '16 at 20:37
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14 CFR 121 contains the legal limit for flight time for airline pilots in the US (you didn't specify whose regulations you were interested in):

(a) No certificate holder conducting domestic operations may schedule any flight crewmember and no flight crewmember may accept an assignment for flight time in scheduled air transportation or in other commercial flying if that crewmember's total flight time in all commercial flying will exceed—

(1) 1,000 hours in any calendar year;

(2) 100 hours in any calendar month;

(3) 30 hours in any 7 consecutive days;

That gives you a rough idea of what the airlines would like every pilot to fly in order to best utilize them. The actual number of hours flown however depends on a lot of things, including the lines that the pilots bid on and whether or not they pick up any extra trips.

While this appears less than a "typical" job, keep in mind, this limit only applies to flight time (which oddly enough includes time taxiing the airplane). The crew will spend additional time before the trip, between each leg, and at the end of the trip taking care of things like pre-flights and post-flights, getting clearances, doing paperwork, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's not that odd to include taxi time in flying hours - the definition is 'stick time' which is the time pilots are actually in control of the aircraft. In places like Australia, stick time defines your pay (for pilots flying under the domestic 'award' ie. industrial agreement for pay purposes). $\endgroup$ – Pete855217 Feb 17 '18 at 4:49
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At a large major airline, 600-800 hours per year is a common number.

This lower number can be due to various factors:

1) Many pilots spend part of the year on "Standby" or "Reserve".

2) Many pilots get 6-7 weeks (or more) vacation.

3) Airline pilots often have to position or "Deadhead" in order to complete their flights.

4) Some airlines do not count longhaul crew rest as loggable hours.

5) Some airlines give hourly credit towards the monthly total for Simulator training or annual recurrent training.

6) Some airlines give hourly credit towards the monthly total for long duty days with unproductive flying. (eg. minimum 4:25 per day or 1/2 duty day credit)

7) Some airlines give hourly credit towards the monthly total for long layovers that result in unproductive flying. (eg. 1/4 time away from base credit)

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  • $\begingroup$ Sim training is often done at 50% credit - depends on the industrial agreeement though. 'Credit' is definitely the measure that is used universally. Actual flying-the-aircraft is always 100% credit time, other activities (sim time, positioning etc.) are <100% credit, depending on the industrial agreement. $\endgroup$ – Pete855217 Feb 17 '18 at 4:53

protected by Community Jun 16 '15 at 22:38

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