I retired in 1999. I'm curious to what degree typical airline ops specs now discourage or prohibit doing what I used to do as a matter of course insofar as hand flying.

For example, I usually hand flew the aircraft until leveling at the first cruise altitude (FL290 or FL310 on fully loaded 747-100/200 aircraft). For the step climbs as fuel was burnt, I nearly always disengaged the autopilot and did the climb manually. At the top of descent I clicked the autopilot off, and I flew approaches manually.

Many of my fellow crew members thought it odd that I did so much hand flying, but as I would explain when asked, I didn't get to the 747 until I was 50 and didn't get to its left seat until a couple of years later, and I wasn't about to forego any of the fun.

None of the hand flying I did was prohibited by our ops specs of the time. My question is: to what degree, if any, do current ops specs discourage or prohibit the hand flying I did?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It's good to see that hand flying skills are still in use. A great display of stick and rudder skills. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 8:37

2 Answers 2


There are no Ops Specs that preclude hand flying, however company policy and operational considerations do in specific situations:

  • Level flight within RVSM airspace
  • Cat III approaches (and I believe Cat II approaches)
  • High workload, critical phases of flight (company specific policies here)

The FAA even came out with a SAFO not too long ago recommending that pilots do more hand flying during periods of low workload (and during training) with the goal of maintaining hand flying proficiency.

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    $\begingroup$ i thought using the autopilot in level flight within RVSM was required by regs $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ @rbp It is, and falls under "operational considerations". ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 20:47

My company only mandated autopilot use during monitored approaches (all cat II approaches and cat I below RVR 2400 for high minimums captains) and for compliance with RVSM ops.

I typically hand flew at least up to 10,000 feet but often up into the flight levels. On descent into fields with a lot of vectoring I usually disconnected the autopilot on our final vector to intercept the approach. Going into less busy places I often disconnected the autopilot when descending out of 10,000 feet.

I also tried to get in one raw-data (no autopilot, no flight director) ILS approach every trip I flew to keep those skills up.


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