How Many Hours Can A Pilot Fly?

Pilot fatigue isn’t a new flying issue and has been a problem for the aviation industry since the first pilots took to the sky. While we’ve always put them on pedestals and have always been in awe of their ability to fly, it’s often easy to forget that pilots are human too.

They get tired just like the rest of us do, and just like the rest of us, when they get tired, pilots can make mistakes. But the burden and weight of responsibility weigh heavily on a pilot’s shoulders, and when they make mistakes because they’re tired, the consequences can be catastrophic. 

That’s why it was so important to find a way to ensure that pilots don’t overtire themselves, work too many hours and succumb to fatigue while they’re flying. But trying to establish a global standard that every airline and air freight company abides by, wasn’t and isn’t easy and there’s still a disparity between different nations and different abbreviation authorities. 

The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) has ruled that pilots shouldn’t work more than sixty duty hours a week, and shouldn’t fly for more than nine hours a day with ten hours of rest after that, while in other countries, pilots can fly for anything up to thirteen hours a day.

The rules are slightly different for international and long-haul flights, where pilots and co-pilot’s alternate shifts and split the flying hours between them, but the standard amount of hours that any pilot is allowed to fly, without a break, in one day, is the same from the East Coast to the West Coast and sea to shining sea.

In America, pilots can only fly for nine hours during the day and eight hours at night in any given twenty four hour period. 

How Are Pilot Flight Hours Calculated?

Even though it’s incredibly easy to paint a very broad picture of the world of aviation and to get carried away by talking about the way different sectors of the industry calculate flying hours, let’s assume that we’re talking about commercial airline pilots and focus on the way that their flying hours and the amount of time that they log in charge of an airplane is calculated. 

Contrary to popular belief, flying hours don’t begin when pilots make their safety checks and take charge of an airplane. Nor do they begin when an airplane takes off and enters the airspace of whichever country it’s flying in or from. 

A pilots flying hours are actually counted from the moment of push-back (when the pilot releases the parking brake on an airplane and begins to taxi to the runaway) until the pilot engages the safety brake after the airplane has reached its destination, landed, taxied to the terminal of the airport and has come to a complete stop. 

The amount of time that passes between push back and final parking are the number of flight hours that the pilot in charge of an airplane can, and should, legally log and count toward their daily, or weekly total. 

How Long Can Pilots Go Without Flying? 

Flying is a skill that pilots need to practice regularly and require regular training to maintain, as the flight systems that airplanes use are constantly updated and pilots need to be familiar with them at all times.

In order to keep flying, pilots also need to maintain their “regency” to be able to fly during the day and at night. Regency refers to the number of take-offs and landings that a pilot needs to make within a ninety-day period in order to be legally allowed to fly.

To be able to fly during daylight hours, a pilot must take-off and land an airplane three times during the day within the specified time period and to maintain their eligibility to fly at night, a pilot must take-off and land an airplane at night the same number of times within the same time period, 

If pilots for any reason, fail to comply with these rules, they must retrain on a simulator before they’re allowed to fly again, and when they have their flight status reinstated they must abide by the rules of regency in order to retain and maintain their flight status. 

How Many Hours A Day Is Flight School? 

That varies from school to school and is partially worked out according to the hours that a trainee pilot spends in the classroom and the simulator as well as in the air.

Theoretically, a trainee pilot could spend nine hours a day flying an airplane as according to the FAA regulations, that is how many hours they’re allowed to fly during the day in any twenty four hour period.  

However, most trainee pilots tend to spend no more than two to four hours a day flying as the demands of studying and learning everything that they need to know in order to be able to fly and earn their pilot’s license are exhausting. That’s why a lot of private flight schools have a set timetable which means that trainees speed their mornings flying and their afternoons in the classroom and the simulator. 

Some flight schools are structured differently, and rely on their students to do their own study and take their written exams in their own time, and prefer to just give tier students flying lessons. If you do attend one of these schools, the average time that you’ll spend flying and learning to fly at one is between an hour and a half and two hours a day. 

How Many Hours Can A Flight Instructor Fly In A Day? 

Flight instructors just like all civilian pilots are governed by FAA regulations and rulings. That means that they can only fly for a maximum of nine hours during the day and eight hours during the night.  That ruling however only governs the number of hours that a flight instructor can fly an airplane and remain in command of it. 

If the flight instructor is merely supervising a student or helping a pilot to requalify and build up their hours, then when they “fly” they can be part of a flight deck crew for far longer than the specified FFA regulations permit them to be.

That said, almost every single flight instructor adheres to any FAA ruling and regulation and wouldn’t dream of violating the eight and nine-hour flying time guidelines. 

What Is The 1500 Hour Rule? 

The fifteen hundred-hour rule governs who can and can’t fly for an airline.  Unless a pilot has fifteen hundred hours of flying time and experience under their belt, they can’t fly for an airline or fly turbine-powered aircraft that are specifically designed to carry passengers.

It’s one of the reasons why the vast majority of airlines prefer to hire former military pilots as they already have the required number of flying hours and with a little additional simulator training time, can start flying for an airline almost immediately.   

For most new private pilots who are looking to get hired by an airline, it usually takes around two years of intensive flying time to accrue the number of hours needed to apply to fly passengers jets and commercial airliners.  

It might sound like an incredibly high number of hours, but it was, and is, set in place to guarantee that a pilot has the necessary experience and level of ability needed to fly passengers safely to wherever it is they may be going.