I've heard that on job applications for airline pilots that they ask the question: "How many hours to Solo?". If it took someone 30 hours to solo but they had more logged flight time than someone who took 10 hours to solo, would the person who soloed in 10 hours have an advantage?

  • Generally they try to find the reason behind the numbers. – PlasmaHH Sep 20 at 8:49
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    Doesn't it depend on the school you train with? It's kind of in their financial interest for them to be slow to let you solo, because of the margins on instruction and because they're there to build ATP hours. Is that overly cynical and not something people in industry take into account? – Nathan Cooper Sep 20 at 9:55
up vote 15 down vote accepted

The honest answer: nobody cares or would even ask you that question during a professional pilot interview. Aside from a military pilot job where they can wash you out during pre-solo training, it doesn’t matter. Primary checkride failures can be dings against you if you have a long string of them without a solid explanation. But everyone fails a primary checkride now and then. Now they will care about initial and recurrent type rating checkride fails for part 121 work.

There are a couple of exceptions these days. Many Chinese airlines who send new pilot recruits to flight schools in the states set time limits for soloing. Exceed those and you will not become a pilot with them (that and you’re obligated to work in another role within the airline for ten years or so) but the majors or regionals here in the states? They don’t care.

What will kill an airline career are:

  1. Part 121 checkride failures
  2. DUIs
  3. felony or drug convictions
  4. bad driving records
  5. history of aircraft accidents or incidents
  6. FAA violations, certificate suspensions or revocations
  7. cheating on FAA exams or logbook doctoring or
  8. lying about any of the above on a job application.

Basically the airlines want to see that you’re a safe, trustworthy, reliable individual at the controls of an aircraft or other motor vehicle. They’re also looking to see if you can fit into company culture and fly the way they want you to fly.

Similar to school, the airlines look to your last employer. Each subsequent increase in responsibility will be what matters. If you have 3000 hours PIC in a ERJ175 with a good reputation and references from the firm you work for, do you think they will really care that it took you 30 hours to solo in a 172?

It depends on the final product presented to the airline. If an airline had two candidates, one of whom soloed in 10 hours and did well in a Sim Eval but was self absorbed, didn't like to follow procedures if he/she knew better, and didn't work well with people, and a candidate who took 30 hours to solo but was a team player, can get along with anyone, was an eager learner and was emotionally mature, and did a passable job in the Sim Eval, they'd take the "slow learner" in a heartbeat if they were confident the candidate could get through the type course.

In the airline world, raw flying skills are an important baseline, but big picture personality related issues are just as important and personality problems with crews are a bigger long term problem than how long it took someone to catch on at the start.

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    Good answer. It has been a few years since I filled out an airline app, but I don't remember this question coming up. I think that by the time someone gets to an ATP the playing field is a bit more level though. – Michael Hall Sep 19 at 21:56
  • And one of the most important skills is being able to make friends, and especially, avoid making enemies. Even in the US it is a small world and you never know when the guy you annoyed once turns up as the chief pilot at the operation you're applying for years later. – John K Sep 20 at 0:17
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    Extrapolate this into any career. I'm a developer and EQ is not exactly.. high in our field. If I was hiring, I would pick an average programmer with high EQ over a great programmer with no social skills every single time. – Cloud Sep 20 at 9:05
  • The interesting thing is the different interpersonal factors with airline vs corporate. Airline crews only have to get along with each other for a few days at a time and may not see each other again for months. Corporate crews may fly together all the time so long term relationship skills are more important. In a corporate flight department, "fitting in" at a personal level is critical and is one of the major sources of stress for a new hire. – John K Sep 20 at 12:22

Great question as it illustrates how the job applicant can improve their chances of employment by knowing what the employer wants. Years ago some flying schools were advertising 10 hours to solo courses. I took 40, but had no previous flying experience.

The major concerns were thoroughly knowing the slow flight characteristics of the plane, building confidence, learning and following landing check lists, handling cross winds, and go around procedures.

While it seemed easier to grease a plane in modulating the throttle, I was always worried about the turn base to final under power. More time was taken learning to come in high and land by adding drag to the plane with flaps and forward slipping. This seemed better because the runway could always be made. I also liked it because it was similar to the engine out emergency landing procedure. Everybody has their own comfort level. But now nearing retirement, my advice would be to not worry about what is on the resume, but how you would answer a question about it. "I took the time to practice until I could safely do it" might be worth considering.

Although they give some good information, neither of the two answers actually answer your question.

would the person who soloed in 10 hours have an advantage?

Yes. All other things being equal, soloing after 10 hours shows on paper you are either a faster learner or just a more focused learner to me if I was looking at potential job applicants in a hiring manner. John K makes the point there are other factors we look at too (obviously) but to answer your question, 10 hours is more impressive than 30 hours (this kind of difference is significant).

It's like college GPA on your resume. Yes extracurriculars, and how well you get along in the interview is definitely important, but if two candidates are pretty much identical in all other factors, why would anyone choose the lower GPA candidate.

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    Problem is, two candidates (or human beings on the planet) are never identical. If they seem that way to you - you missed something. – Cloud Sep 20 at 9:10
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    "a faster learner or just a more focused learner " - Not necessarily. 10 hours might just show you were trying to save money by cutting corners in your training, you chose a cheapskate flying school that would go along with that attitude, and you got lucky enough not to crash. – alephzero Sep 20 at 9:50
  • @alephzero. I 100% agree it could. Just like a higher GPA could mean you chose a cheapskate uni with easy subjects in courses which curved, and got lucky that the grade got curved so most people got A's. Again to answer his question though, in general, all other things being equal, on average, someone learning to solo in literally a third of the time as someone else usually leads me to favour the one who learnt faster.Maybe some % of the time I'm choosing the cheapskate (and the interview/past checkrides etc. should pick this up) but on average its an adv and thats what the question was asking – aero plain Sep 20 at 23:17
  • A lot of these answers are talking about "it depends on other things" or "maybe the 10 hour student wasnt adept just lucky but the 30 hour student wasn't clumsy but just cautious" which all are 100% potentially true and legitimate concerns, but that's not what the question is asking. He's not asking how much of an advantage 10 hours is to 30 hours (which I agree should be very little especially compared to other factors like if you have 4+ checkrides etc.) he's just asking IF there is an advantage. And if you learnt to solo in 3x as long, that's more often a disadvantage than an advantage. – aero plain Sep 20 at 23:23

It's not a factor, to be honest, unless your time to solo was extraordinarily long. Solo endorsements vary a lot based on the instructor in addition to the student. You could have an overly careful CFI that won't let you solo until 30 hours, or maybe you have some crazy cropduster type that'll sign you off at 10.

If an airline is comparing two pilots that have very similar backgrounds, and they start comparing times to solo, they will surely take a step back and figure out a way to see each pilot from a bigger picture perspective. I am speculating on this, but I see a major airline asking an extra personality question before looking at time to solo.

One guy said time to solo is like GPA on a resume. It's more like a fine detail on your transcript showing you took Math 1, 2, and 3 while the other guy skipped 1 and just took 2 and 3. Sure, he was better at math than you at one point, but you could also argue that you understand the underlying concepts better than him.

Don't fret about time to solo. Fret about which tie you're going to wear.

  • Depends where you learn to fly as well. Having a 1682 foot home field with obstructions at both ends is a bit harrowing to learn at vs a 5000 foot field that is wide open for instrument approaches. After learning at a 1682 foot field, with no shot at putting down near the numbers, everyplace else just seems unnecessarily long now :) – CrossRoads Sep 20 at 15:42

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