Being a pilot is without a doubt one of the most amazing careers in the world. But they do work a lot. How many hours do pilots really work?
If you’re thinking about becoming a pilot, you’re probably wondering what the job actually entails. The two most common questions that you’ll likely have in any career are how many hours you have to work and how much money you’ll make. Let’s focus on the first question in this article and take an in-depth look at how many hours pilots work.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, airline and commercial pilots spend 75 hours per month actually flying. In addition to this, pilots also spend 150 more hours per month on non-flying activities. This leads to the average pilot working just shy of 52 hours per week.
The life of a pilot can be a bit more demanding than many other jobs. The stresses, the hours, the people you have to deal with. It can be a bit much at times. While we could take a look at all of these factors, let’s just focus on the hours in this article. We’ll look at how many hours pilots work per week, how many hours they actually fly per month, and any federal limitations. We’ll also quickly touch on when pilots get to go home and how much pilots make per hour.
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Do Pilots Work More Than 40 Hours Per Week?
Here in the United States (and much of the rest of the world), the standard work week is 40 hours. This is where the “9-5” job comes from, which is representative of 8 hours shifts 5 days per week. While most people don’t actually work the hours 9 to 5, you get the point. Pilots, however, almost never actually work those hours.
So many hours do pilots really work?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pilots work an average of 225 hours per month. This is made up of flying and non-flying hours, and does not include any additional time that pilots have to be away from home based on their flight assignments and scheduling.
With this data in mind, the average airline and commercial pilot works 2,700 hours per year (225 hours x 12 months). If we then divide this value by 52 (the number of weeks per year), we see that pilots work an average of 52 hours per week.
This is actually quite a bit more than the “normal” 40-hour work week in the country. In fact, those extra 12 hours/week equal a whopping 30% more time working than the typical job. Keep in mind that this is just the average, and likely not exactly representative of exactly what your schedule would look like as a new pilot. You might work less, you might work more.
But on average, pilots in this country work more than 50 hours per week.
How Many Hours Per Month Do Pilots Fly?
Note from the above section that we mentioned that this 225 hours per month is composed of both flying and non-flying hours. When you’re wondering how many hours pilots work, I would guess that you’re actually wondering about how many hours a pilot actually spends flying an airplane, right?
Based on the same data from the BLS, the average airline and commercial pilot in the US spends 75 hours per month flying. The other 150 hours is made up of other activities such as flight planning and checking weather conditions. That means that only about 33% of your time working as a pilot is actually flying!
Are Pilots Limited With How Much They Can Fly?
One of the reasons that the amount of time spent flying is less than you might expect is because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits the amount of time a pilot can fly in any given day, week, month, and year. But it can get a bit confusing since the FAA uses the term flight duty as opposed to the actual amount of time flying reported by the BLS.
This is different because Flight Duty includes anything to do with the actual flight. This means that any time a pilot is at the airport getting ready, performing any training duties, or traveling on a plane en route to the flight that they’ll be taking over counts as official flight time. This time-encompassing flight duty has the following limitations:
- 8 hours in one day (without a rest period)
- 500 hours in a 3-month period
- 800 hours in a 6-month period
- 1,400 hours in a calendar year
As you can see, there are strict limits to what a pilot can do in terms of actual flight-time. Looking at the big picture, a limit of 1,400 hours per year comes out to just under 27 hours of flying per week. And since this includes more than just the actual act of flying, you can see where the 75 hours per month from the BLS comes into play.
Do Pilots Always Get To Go Home After Work?
One of the biggest things to keep in mind when you’re deciding to become a pilot or not is how much time you have to spend away from home. As you can probably guess, all pilots don’t just work a normal 9-to-5 job where they get to make it home for dinner every night with their families.
We have an article taking an in-depth look into this topic that you can check out here, but I’ll touch on the high points in this article since the number of hours you work as a pilot is not the full picture.
Although not always, many pilots that fly domestically in the US actually do get to go home everyday, similar to just about any other job out there. Those that don’t typically spend 4 to 5 days away from home while they work, and then stay home for 3 to 4 consecutive days after that. Pilots that fly long-haul flights, such as international flights, are often away from home for 10 to 15 days at a time.
So be sure to consider this as well and not only focus on just the number of hours that you’re actually working. A pilot’s life can be pretty demanding, so consider everything!
How Much Do Pilots Make Hourly?
This is, of course, incredibly dependent on the pilot themselves, which airline they work for, how often they fly, which routes they handle, and more. Also, we have a couple of articles on the site that dive into how much pilots make and where pilots make the most money, so I won’t get too far into the weeds on the topic here.
That said, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can see the average salary of a pilot in the United States is $130,440. With this, combined with the information above that pilots work an average of 2,700 hours per year, we can do the math and conclude that the average pilot makes about $48.31 per hour in the US. This doesn’t include any overtime pay, so the effective hourly rate would actually be less.
So is it worth it to become a pilot with all of the crazy hours and potential time away from family? That’s a subjective question that can really only be answered by you in the end. Like all jobs, you have to weigh the pros and the cons and determine if the pay and the love for the job is worth it.
If you were to ask my personal opinion, I’d say that becoming a pilot is one of the best things you can do for a career. But I might be a bit biased towards anything that’s related to aviation!
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood