What is common number of flight hours a year for an airline pilot?

  • 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?

  • casey

    casey Correct answer

    7 years ago

    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.

    ...and for some perspective, starting wage for a first officer at American Eagle is $25.46/(flight) hour. (at least it was in 2014)

    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?

    @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.

    @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.

    @JanHudec total hours isn't hard because that is already tracked for per-diem and duty times. Time from duty in to duty out must be tracked for legality (max times per day, per duty, per rolling 7 days, per month, etc) and total time from duty in on day 1 to duty out on the last day is needed for per-diem calculation.

    @casey That's a pretty good breakdown. I've never kept accurate track (because I didn't want to make myself cry), but I've always estimated that for every hour I've had in the airplane I did at least 2-3 hours on the ground. That lines up pretty well with your numbers. :-/

    This answer is not applicable to Part 91 commercial pilots. Apart from instructors, flight and duty times are not restricted. I have flown 14.3 hours in a consecutive 16 hour period.

    @JonathanWalters that is true, though the question is tagged airline-pilot and airline-operations (and the question body mentioned airline pilots specifically "So how many flight hours is usual for full-time airline pilot to log in a year?") so part 121 regulations are what is being asked about. If anything, the question title could be edited to "airline" instead of "commercial".

    True. Question title put the question into that context when I read it. Maybe it should be edited. A lot of users seem to equate commercial with airline.

    @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.

    Ah yes, brings back lots of memories.

    In my experience - very roughly - around 900 hrs per year. That's on domestic short-haul, which for most network schedules is fairly intense. It really is network dependent though.

    Is it possible to do paperwork while the autopilot is flying on FL400?

    @Christian No, as you have to sign the paperwork before you can depart (dispatch release, fuel order, weather, maintenance sign-offs, logbooks, etc).

    @casey I'm talking about tomorrows paperwork

    @Christian ah, the paperwork isn't generated that far ahead of time. Dispatch is strongly dependent on current and forecast weather and the specific airplane you are going to fly. As such the paperwork is generated by your dispatcher just an hour or two ahead of time.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM