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If you haven’t flown in a while, but have a license, you may be wondering: do flight training hours expire?
As far as the Federal Aviation Administration is concerned, flight hours do not expire. Once the hours you’ve flown are logged, these remain as part of your experience, no matter how long it has been since then.
However, while flight hours may not expire on a legal basis, if it has been a while since you’ve had any flying experience, this will be taken into account.
In our research, we’ve looked through reliable resources and taken opinions from veterans in the aviation industry to put together this information for you.
What Are Flight Training Hours?
‘Flight hours’, in the aviation industry, refer to the total amount of time an individual has spent piloting an aircraft and is used to measure how much experience the pilot has. Flight hours (or time) are defined as the time between when an aircraft moves for the purpose of flying and comes to rest after landing. In fact, for some flying schools, if the engine is running, then the time taken for pre-flight checks is also included in flight time.
Most jobs and government licensing regulations will have specific regulations around how many flight hours their recruits need to get hired, so most pilots will have a logbook where they record their flight time to prove their experience. For pilots, logbooks are legal documents, and they record details, such as the time of day they flew in, what kind of aircraft it was, the visual conditions, etc. Logbooks used to be traditional hard copies, but lately, there have been electronic versions as well.
With more flight hours, the more experience you have. This makes a higher number of flight hours better for pilots looking for high-paying jobs.
There are differences in how many hours are needed for helicopter pilots and airplane pilots. For students earning private licenses – whether for airplanes or helicopters – the required number of hours is 40. For commercial licenses, pilots need 150 hours and 250 hours for helicopters and planes, respectively.
This amount of flight time will usually only get entry-level jobs. For better opportunities, the required number of hours can be as high as 1,000 or 1,500.
Different kinds of certifications may also specify that you should have flight hours in certain kinds of aircraft. For example, to get a Commercial Pilot Certificate, Multi-Engine Rating, you’d need a total of 250 hours, with 5 PIC cross-country hours, 10 hours having flown solo and 8 multi-engine hours.
Depending on the kind of aircraft and the certificate, these requirements can go up and down.
Though in theory, it is possible to get certified at minimum hour requirements, pilots also have to prove their proficiency before they are allowed to take tests for any category.
Do Flight Training Hours Expire?
Once your flight training hours have been logged into the logbook, they’re there to stay. This information can be accessed no matter how much time has passed.
However, because flight hours are meant to demonstrate proficiency, it is natural that flight hours from a long time ago are not taken as keenly as flight hours showing recent experience.
Since piloting planes and helicopters is a job that requires caution and expertise, most jobs will not consider flight hours from more than a few years as relevant experience, and you may have to get an additional number of flight hours to qualify for the position.
This is also why the flight time requirement goes up when the position you are applying for and the aircraft gets more complicated. For example, air transport pilots need more than 1,500 flight hours with 500 cross-country hours, 100 PIC cross-country hours and 250 PIC hours. There may be some overlap among these, and this is called ‘stacking’, for example cross-country hours count as both: cross-country and as general flight hours.
With the amount of time it takes to get certified, it’s no surprise that some people may quit or take a break to pursue other tasks or interests. In that case, the question then, is: will your flying hours expire, or do you have to start from scratch all over again?
The good thing is that even though your old flight hours may not be valid in practice¸ they are still valid legally, and it will only take some time and practice to refresh the skills that may have gone rusty. In fact, when returning to flying, you’ll probably pick up the basics again very quickly and be ready for your check ride when that comes around.
You can also choose to fly with an instructor who can evaluate you and give you an idea of how you can improve so you can get your required recent experience faster.