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

Jan Hudec
  • What is common number of flight hours a year for commercial pilot? Jan Hudec

    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?

  • 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.

  • 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).

    Lets look at a typical trip, which at my company tended to be a 4 day trip. You want good productive trips, but you cant always get them. On a 4 day trip lets 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 lets 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? Lets 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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