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Experienced pilots (e.g. those with over 10,000 hours) are more likely to have faced an emergency situation some time in their career, compared to a new pilot (with say 40 hours). My question is, how often can one expect to encounter an emergency situation (e.g. one every 5,000 hours) ?

Here, an emergency situation is defined as a situation where the use of a "Mayday" call is justified, for example engine failure (in single / multi engine aircrafts), loss of electronic instruments in the cockpit etc. Medical emergencies are not counted.

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    $\begingroup$ I feel your definition of an emergency might be too narrow. For example, once the catastrophe began to unfold on AF447, would you describe the situation as an emergency? $\endgroup$ – Daniele Procida Aug 12 '17 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @DanieleProcida -- definitely -- loss of all reliable airspeed refs is a Mayday situation for sure $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Aug 12 '17 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ If the FAA released raw data this would be easier to quantify but may be difficult in the current format. Somebody would have to go through all the incident/accident reports and record the hours of the crew. That is if a report was even filed, quite often "emergencies" that end without any remarkable outcome aren't reported, like engine failures in multi-engine aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Aug 12 '17 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ On a minor point, note that if the aircraft needs two crew members, then the mean frequency for a pilot doubles (or the period is halved) without actual change in emergency event frequency. $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 13 '17 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ On the AF447 situation - it shouldn't have been an emergency. Loss of airspeed indication is supposed to be covered in A330 training: 85% power, 5 degrees nose up, and you hold a reliable cruising speed until the pitot tubes unfreeze. It was aircrew panicking and creating confusion in the cockpit that led to that disaster. $\endgroup$ – tj1000 Aug 13 '17 at 22:35
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The answer is going to vary wildly according aircraft type, pilot rating and proficiency, number and type of engines, aircraft size, and part of the world.

In this 2016 study by the FAA for GA pilots, the median period of time for non instrument rated pilots was over 3 times as often as instrument rated. 250hrs vs 823hrs. The report describes some of the hardships involved in arriving at the less than precise determination.

I have asked this question to many airline pilots and about half of the 4000-6000hr pilots have a story to tell. Just guessing but I would say modern airliners are perhaps every 10,000 hours.

I must be doing something wrong, because I averaged about every 500-600hrs but then I was mostly flying very old run down Beech-18's in Alaska.

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  • $\begingroup$ The fact that they were able to tell the stories is promising. I wonder what the statistics would be on pilot hours as a fatality rate, i.e. 1 fatality per 100,000 hours or something. $\endgroup$ – Cloud Jun 28 '18 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ Well, having an instrument rating gives you options beyond what you have without one. VFR into IMC? Without an instrument rating, losing all external references is absolutely an emergency. With an instrument rating, you can (not saying it's always the best thing to do) just call up ATC, inform them of the situation, and switch to IFR. Alternatively, you can switch to instrument references only and go back the way you came without significantly endangering the safety of the flight. So it's not particularly surprising that a non-IR pilot would call mayday more often than an IR pilot, on average. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 20 at 14:47

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