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Trying to determine how many flights pilots fly every month can sometimes be confusing. This is especially so when looking from the outside in.
Flights are terrific. For many, being a pilot seems like a dream job. Being able to visit many countries and fly these huge planes has a real nice appeal. Some might even think they can “do this all day every day,” because really, with so many countries, who wouldn’t want to see it all? Without having to pay all those flight dues at that?
The number of flights pilots fly per month varies per aviation laws, regulations on duty limitations, nature of the flights, and the pilot's seniority level. When these are carefully considered, one can then have an estimate of how many flights each pilot flies each month.
Looking in, either as a traveler or an aspiring pilot, you might sometimes wonder what it takes to be a pilot. One of your considerations may also include the frequency of pilots flying. Before going to aviation school, you may be considering how many flights you would have to fly in a month.
A senior pilot writes this article to help you better understand how many flights pilots fly per month and the considerations that go into this.
Is there a limit to how many flights pilots can fly?
Yes, there is a limit to how many flights a pilot can fly in a day, in a month, and a year. This limit, however, differs per person and per scenario as it is determined by part type, nature of the flight, and the pilot’s seniority level.
How part type affects flights frequency
The US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which is an arrangement of the general and permanent regulations published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the United States' Federal Government, has two titles that have to do with Transportation and Aeronautics and Space; Title 49 and Title 14 respectively.
These have a sub-section, Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) which have Parts that give specifics. The Part that an airline operates under then determines the flight hours of the pilots. This way, the amount of flights a pilot flies monthly differs by Part.
What are these parts?
- Part 91 - The least restrictive of FAR’s parts, this part covers general operations and flight rules. It also covers general aviation which caters to people who have their aircraft. In most cases, the aviation laws do not cover these and there is flexibility with decision making, including the decision on how many flights the pilot can fly in a month. As such, pilots can fly for days on end if they want. Even as this is unadvisable, the laws permit such.
- Part 121 - This details the rule for scheduled air carriers which involves the major airlines. This part is the most restrictive and has the highest safety standards. This safety standard places a heavy restriction on the pilot’s flight time and frequency. This is because pilot fatigue has been deemed serious and is responsible for several accidents. Maximum monthly flying hours here is 100 hours. That is, pilots, can only fly 8 to 109 flights monthly, depending
- Part 135 caters to commuter operations, charters, and generally flights that have 30 seats or fewer. It also has high safety standards, like part 121, and restricts extensive pilot flight time to 120 monthly flying hours. This can be 10 to 120 flights, depending on the nature of the flight.
Part 121 and 135 require us pilots to take mandatory rests to ensure peak performance. Part 121, would even in certain cases, like in the case of long-haul flights, mandate the presence of a first officer.
How flights’ nature affects flight frequency
The average pilot has 70 to 100 flight hours in a month. Flight time, however, differs per flight nature. Short haul flights are those that have a flight time of anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Mid-haul flights last 3 to 6 hours, long-haul flights last for 6 to 12 hours and ultra-long haul flights are over 12 hours long. Understanding this helps you understand how many flights a pilot flies monthly.
A pilot who flies 70 hours in a month will fly about 23 short haul flies in a month, a pilot with 70 hours monthly flight time who flies mid-haul flights will fly about 12 of these, such a pilot who flies long haul flights will fly 5 to 12 of these in a month, and if this pilot flies ultra long haul flights, they will fly about 5 of these in a month.
On the upper limit, a pilot who flies 100 hours in a month will fly about 33 to as many as 100 short-haul flies in a month. If this pilot flies mid-haul flights, they will fly about 17 to 33 mid-haul flights in a month, such a pilot who flies long haul flights will fly 8 to 17 of these in a month, and if this pilot flies ultra long haul flights, they will fly about 5 of these in a month.
To ensure that these flight limits are adhered to, the Federal Aviation Administration monitors these to ensure we have mandatory rest.
How seniority level affects flight frequency
As senior pilots, we generally have more flexibility in picking our schedule and flight time, determining the places we fly to, and the choice of aircraft we fly.
As many pilots generally opt for longer flights, we have fewer flights in a month and more rest time. This seniority level is, however, not assumed. A seniority number is assigned to a pilot based on the date of his hire to the airline. The longer he stays there, the higher his seniority number becomes. This in turn increases his flexibility, widens his choice, and gives him more flexibility.
Based on this, the number of flights senior pilots fly differs, sometimes widely, from that of junior pilots.
How many flights do military pilots fly in a month?
Military pilots have rules that differ from civilian pilots with the latter being more stringent. Even as military pilots have their flight time limitations, these can be extended on request. Hence, these limitations serve more as guidelines than rules.
The Air Force Instruction Manual AFI 11-202 Volume 3 provides instructions on maximum flying time and flight duty periods. These instructions apply to everyone who operates Air Force aircraft and detail that the maximum monthly flying time is 125 hours, which could be between 10 and 125 flights, depending on the distance traveled.
These limits are, however, not always reached, as John Venable, a former commander of the Air Force Thunderbirds squadron, states that the average line combat mission-ready fighter pilot received about 131 hours of flying time a year which is less than 11 hours a month. The existing limits of 125 monthly flying hours may, however, need to be pushed in a deployed environment. As such, such limitations don't count for the military.
Can a pilot fly every day if they love flying?
No, they can’t. No matter how much a pilot loves flying, the FAA flying limits will trump their desires. This is especially because these limits were set to ensure the safety of passengers. With the desire for safe flights being principal, a pilot has to stick to his flying schedule.
Who monitors how many flights a pilot flies?
While individual airlines set their flight schedules, these have to be in line with FAA federal regulations. These regulations apply to all flights, whether domestic or international; short or long haul, and cover breaks, rest period, and flight time.
These flight times are restricted to a maximum of 8 hours per flight for flight crews with one pilot and 10 hours per flight for two-pilots flights. These flight time limitations include additional commercial flying performed during the period in consideration.
When do pilots know how many flights they will fly that month?
All pilots receive their flight schedules in advance. This advance varies from a week to a month before the first scheduled flight. With this schedule, we get to prepare in advance for the flights and have an idea of the types and amount of the pre-flight and post-flight activities required for each flight.
Unlike what sometimes happens at 9-5, we can’t simply pick shifts or come in at the last minute for more work. Pilots know in advance and except in rare situations, this schedule is stuck.
What happens when a pilot is not flying?
As pilots, when we aren’t flying, we generally aren’t just sitting at home watching TV (though sometimes we may be!), there are often many other things we’re doing:
Pre or post-flight activities
Asides from flying, we have to engage in certain preflight activities, like weather studies, mapping our flights, going over operations, etc.
After flying, we also have post-flight activities like making and filing post-flight reports and conducting post-flight aircraft operations among others.
In what is sometimes called a “2 to 1 rule", we spend twice the time we are on air on the ground. If we have an 8-hour flight, we mostly use 16 hours to conduct these pre and post-flight operations.
This comes in two main forms:
- There could be an inflight rest. To ensure peak performance, aircraft with at least two pilots on board can have the pilots taking turns resting inflight in a cabin. This way, we put our best foot forward.
- There is the rest that comes after every flight. We have resting periods that are equivalent to flight time. These resting periods are more if the flight time exceeds 12 hours. That is, if our flight time is 8 hours, we have to rest for 8 hours. If our flight time is 12 hours or more, we have to rest for at least 16 hours.
These for us could be any time of the year, up to multiple times in a year. For this article, we can relate to it as “time off work.” Because rest is heavily mandated, pilots, especially senior pilots, can have subsequent days where we are off work.
This can be after days of having simultaneous short-haul flights. This time varies per seniority level as senior pilots can have as many as 20 days off work in a month (remember we take on most of those long-haul flights). Junior pilots can have up to 12 days off work in a month.
On average, that’s about 15 days off work in a month. This, to us, is time that could be used as a vacation with family and friends (especially considering many commercial pilots get discounted tickets with our airline or might potentially be able to tag it onto the end of a flight we’ve flown!)