Flight Time and Duty Time Limitations For Airline Pilots

KJFK New York from the cockpit

View from the cockpit at JFK

Flight time and duty time limitations for airline pilots are spelled out in Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. They can be further refined in the scheduling sections of union contracts. Most pilot groups will try to negotiate more restrictive limitations to benefit their quality of life. We all love to fly, but time at home is very important also, especially for those pilots who have families and small children. The FAA flight time limitations for commercial pilots are as follows:

  • 8 hours between required rest periods.
  • 30 hours in any 7 consecutive days..
  • 100 hour in any calendar month.
  • 1000 hours in a calendar year.

8 hours between required rest periods is the hardest of the limitations to understand. The required rest can change depending on how many hours are actually flown in a 24 hour period. By regulation, a pilot can only be SCHEDULED to fly 8 hours in any 24 consecutive hours. Now, if because of delays beyond the operator’s (airline”s) control, the 8 hours are exceeded, the pilot can complete the flying assignment, but he/she will need additional rest before another assignment is accepted. The FAA rest requirements are as follows:

  • Scheduled for less than 8 hours = 9 hours of consecutive rest.
  • If you end up flying more than 8 hours but less than 9 hours = 10 consecutive hours of rest.
  • If you end up flying more than 9 hours = 11 hours of consecutive rest.

The 8 hour limitation is not often exceeded, but during times of severe weather is does happen.

Flight Time vs Credit Time

For airline pilots, there are two different types of times we are concerned with in the coarse of a day. One is the flight time the FAA requires us to keep track of for the limits discussed above. We call this actual flight time BLOCK TIME. The other is what we call CREDIT TIME. Credit time is usually a certain percentage above the actual flight time and is what our hourly pay is based upon. When we receive at trip assignment, both of these times will be listed on the printout. The more credit a trip assignment is worth, relates to more days off and more time with our families.

Duty Time

The last time we are concerned with is DUTY TIME. For each trip assignment, we are required to report one hour before the departure of our first flight. In our pilot break room, there are computers that allow us to pull up our monthly schedule using our company assigned employee number. We also use these computers to CHECKIN for a particular trip assignment. Once we checkin, we are considered ON DUTY.  The FAA allows us to be on duty for a maximum of 16 hours. What most people do not understand is we may be scheduled to receive 8 hours of credit (pay), but it may take us 16 hours to get it. Not at all like a 9 – 5 job.

The flight time and duty limitations that I have discussed are for domestic flying only, which means within the contiguous United States. When talking about international flying, there are a different set of rules to learn. Always something to learn and review as an airline pilot.

This article was written by Michael Moore, an A-320 Captain, aviation writer, and frequent contributor to AviationSchoolsOnline.com. You can follow him on Twitter @michaelflies or find his blog at http://michaelfliesblog.com.

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