For These Ladies, Paragliders Offered The Ultimate View Of Iceland. (Video)

Paragliding pilots have the ultimate perch to get out and see the world. For two Icelandic women, a planned camping trip to the highlands of their country turned into one of the most mesmerizing videos I’ve come across.

In July 2011 two girls borrowed a 4×4, filled it with camping gear and paragliders and drove up to the Highlands of Iceland.

They experienced a new side of their own country, found some extreme flying spots and quaint people, learned how to drive across rivers, up mountains and how to read maps.

4 weeks later, having killed the vehicle, they returned and made this film:

I can think of no better excuse to travel than to take up paragliding and meet other pilots around the world. In fact, I plan to do just that. Stay tuned.

Want to learn to really fly? If you live in the U.S. look up a paragliding school close to you. It’s less expensive than you think.

Cockpit Chronicles: Landing an airline pilot job just got harder, but here’s one way to do it.

Last year H.R. 5900 was signed into law requiring the FAA to set a new 1,500 hour minimum flight time requirement for any new airline pilots including small companies hiring co-pilots for their 19-seat airplanes.

The law is mandated to take effect by August of 2013 and was one of the recommendations to come from the Colgan Flight 3407 accident in Buffalo, even though both accident pilots had more than 1,500 hours at the time of the crash, with the captain having logged 3,329 hours and the first officer 2,200.

In the past, major airlines culled their aviators from the military and regional airlines. As hiring tapered off, military pilots went to the much lower paying jobs at the turboprop and small jet operators.

Today, fewer pilots are leaving the military, instead opting to make it a career. Furthermore, Air Force Magazine reported:

USAF is already training more UAV pilots than F-16 pilots. Within two to three years, Air Force officials predict, drone pilots will outnumber F-16 pilots, numbering as high as 1,100.

Airlines don’t recognize this as piloting experience, though. Fortunately, these pilots may be able to move on to a flying position after three years in the service, which brings them three years closer to the twenty years needed for retirement, something that may affect their decision to move on to the airlines.

As the military pool of pilots dries up, most new hire classes will be filled with high-time regional airline pilots. But with the 1,500 hour requirement for new co-pilots, (what had been a typical minimum experience at the major airlines) these smaller companies are going to be competing fiercely for new pilots.

So while it’s going to be more difficult to get to the 1,500 hour point, once you get there, the job market will likely be far less competitive.

But getting there won’t be easy. I’ll share with you how I would go about it if I were starting today.For a college-educated new pilot to finish their basic requirements which include a commercial flying license with multi-engine and instrument ratings, and perhaps a flight instructor certificate, they’re looking at a minimum of $40,000 worth of debt, not including their college expenses. After making it through the training, they’ll still only have 250 hours at this point.

Traditionally, these pilots would then become flight instructors in order to build flight time for a few hundred hours. But now they’ll need to extend that employment until they reach at least 1,500 hours. And instructor jobs will be far more scarce, especially as their students drop out after they realize what a daunting (and expensive) task is ahead of them.

If our 250-hour pilot can’t find an instructing job, they would have to spend at least another $125,000 renting a single-engine airplane ($100 an hour for 1,250 hours) until they reach the new minimum flight time requirement.

Let’s add that up, shall we?

$80,000 for a 4-year college degree in whatever subject they choose.

$40,000 to reach the old minimum ratings and flight time.

Another $125,000 to reach 1,500 hours of flight time.

That works out to $245,000!

Now, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be willing to invest that much money to land a $24,000 a year commuter airline co-pilot job, even one that offers a chance to make $80,000 after upgrading to captain after a number of years.

There’s no doubt in my mind that some shortcuts will need to be made. Airlines will likely reduce or drop altogether the requirement for candidates to have a college degree, for example. They’ll also lobby the FAA to allow them to hire pilots with less than 1,500 hours if they’ve gone through an aviation university, perhaps.

Regular readers of the Cockpit Chronicles know that I love my job. I can’t imagine doing anything else. But would I recommend this to anyone given the added expenses involved?

That’s exactly the question (edited for brevity) that Jeffrey asked this week:

Hey Kent,

I’m a student at a Community College in North Carolina and I hope to have an associates degree by July. The few questions I have to you are about aviation and where I should go from this point forward.

1. After earning my instrument rating and racking up a total of 165.4 hours what is the next step for me? I’m really unsure where to go from here and what to do. Should I cut my losses in aviation and change career goals?

My main concern would be a loan for the commercial training which would be at least a twenty thousand dollars to get my commercial single and multi and CFII rating. That would then put me owing thirty thousand dollars in loans. I do realize that in aviation the money is not great especially for someone first starting out. I’d have to endure several years of low pay as a flight instructor and then several more years as a first officer with low pay. I’m not sure that’s something I want to do. I completely understand that money isn’t everything but I’d like to be able to live on my own one day and be able to be happy doing what I am doing with my career choice.

2. Would you recommend this industry to anyone that is in my shoes right now? The price of gas is likely causing fewer people to fly. I’m just unsure of the current state of the aviation industry. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

With 164 hours, you’ve already invested a sizable amount of money to get where you are right now. There are three things that will all happen in the next two years that should give you some hope.

First, the lack of movement at almost every airline is about to change on December 12th of 2012. That’s the date when pilots will start hitting the mandatory retirement age again after the number was raised from 60 to 65 back in 2007.

Next, new flight time and duty regulations are set to be announced on August 8th of this year that will likely cause airlines to hire more pilots. In their response to the rule, American Airlines claimed they would need 2,300 more pilots to fly their existing schedule. Currently, American has about 9,500 pilots plus another thousand on furlough.

Finally, the 1,500 hour requirement will likely discourage many potential pilots from putting in the investment and years of training required.

But if you can get to that magic 1,500 hours, you’re going to be in an enviable spot in a few years.

Would I do it? Heck yes. It’s still a great job, and I can’t see myself doing anything else. Although, in fairness not all pilots agree, most notably Sully Sullenberger, that this is still a viable career.

So here’s how would I do it today, assuming I couldn’t find an instructing job, since flight instructors will be staying around until 1,500 hours, creating a logjam at that position:

First, get your ratings. You’ll need a Private, Commercial, Multi-engine, and Instrument licenses, or ‘ratings.’ Each has different flight time requirements, from 40 hours for the private license to 250 hours for the commercial rating.

In order to get from 250 hours to 1,500 hours I would buy an inexpensive airplane to build up flight time, reducing my cost per hour down to as little as $30 to $50, which might cut the $125,000 in half or more after selling the airplane 1,250 hours later. Airplanes generally don’t depreciate much, although it’s a buyers market right now in this economy.

Here’s an example airplane, a Cessna 172. If that link should break, just go to and look at the listings for Cessna 152s, 172s, a Cherokee 140, or, if you’re more the type to drive a Mini or an MG, by all means look at the Luscombe, Aeronca Champ, or Cessna 140. All are relatively good values (under $20,000 or $30,000) even if the Luscombe and Champ are more than sixty years old.

You’ll have some great experience, and wonderful memories to go along with that flight time.

The author building time in a 1946 Luscombe that helped him land his first flying job.

So Jeffrey, I think you should stick with it. As someone once said, “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.”

Let’s just hope your future parking place will be at a jetbridge.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Plane Answers: Follow up questions to ‘So you want to be a pilot.’

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

We’ve received a lot of follow up questions to the Plane Answers post from last week, “So you want to be a pilot. Here’s how.” The following questions were chosen from those who wrote in asking about a career change:

Rick asks:

I read your article last week about pilot training and careers “So you want to be a pilot?” on Gadling. I am 55 years old. Is it too late for some one my age to consider a career in commercial aviation? I am in excellent health and train daily (running, swimming and cycling).

Hi Rick,

The mandatory retirement age is 65 for airlines, but there isn’t a retirement age for corporate flying, instructing or ‘Part 135‘ charters.

If an airline hired you at 59 or 60, you may find it impossible to recoup your investment in the years of flight training you’d have to accomplish.

But there’s usually pretty good demand for flight instructors who are willing to stay with a company, as opposed to those who are building time with their sights set on the first charter or airline job that comes along. If you really enjoy flying, and you think you might be a good teacher, that could be your best bet. And you can often continue working somewhere else while you instruct on the weekends, for example, especially since the pay for instructors is so low, you’ll likely need a second job anyway.
And who knows, you may find some charter work to do after a few years of instructing.

There was a time when major airlines wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t young enough to eventually make it to the left seat. At my airline, the unwritten age limit in 1998 was 47. The retirement age back then was 60. I would imagine airlines may start using 50 as a cutoff. Since most airlines aren’t hiring pilots right now, it’s hard to know for sure.

Good luck. And even if you decide not to fly commercially, give some thought to getting a private pilot license. You’ll likely enjoy the process.

And Carl asks a similar question:

In your article you stated that the mandatory retirement age was 65. Does that mean that you can’t fly commercially after 65 or just for the major airlines. I’m looking at early retirement at 55 and would like to do charters to hunting and fishing sites and small to medium groups to special destinations.

Flying charters to fishing or hunting locations often involves flying a floatplane for a guide service. There is no retirement age for those operators, but the experience requirements are steep. Insurance companies dictate the minimum flight time for these pilots, and most require experience in that particular location.

Having grown up in Alaska, I can tell you that there are thousands of high-time pilots who are thinking along the same lines as you. If you do decide to pursue this goal, you might be better off learning to fly from one of the flight schools in the area where you’re hoping to work, so your experience can be considered local. And you may end up getting to know some of the operators there as well which will help in the networking department.

You can find a list of flight schools in your area here.

Jeromy asks:

Hi Kent,

I’m approaching 30 and I’ve been considering a career change lately due to my lack of desire to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life. I was a wildland firefighter for several seasons while working my way through engineering school. I loved the job and I remember looking up at the lead plane pilots flying low guiding the heavy tankers, showing them where to drop the fire retardant. I always thought that would be a thrilling position, dangerous though it may be. Now I feel like I’m at a crossroads, and my dream of living that adventure could lie down one of those roads.

The requirements seem to be around a minimum of 1300 hrs to get your foot in the door. How would you recommend achieving this dream expediently, while trying to feed a family at the same time?

Hi Jeromy,

I agree. Flying in a firefighting support role has been a dream of mine since I first saw the movie “Always.”

Your first step is to get your Private Pilot License as I explained last week. Since you have a family and a job, I would recommend going the Part 61 route, since it’s usually easier to set your own pace, and the hourly rates are often less expensive. Hopefully you can finish up your commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings with them (you’ll need all three) and move along to a part time instructing job to build time.

While you’re doing that, try to get in touch with some of the pilots who do the job. Networking is the best way to land any flying job, and you may discover just what requirements you’ll need. I have to think that your firefighting experience might appeal to an employer, though.

There were so many good comments from last week’s column, I’m hopeful someone who flies tankers will respond here with some more detailed advice for you.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answer’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work. Twitter @veryjr

Plane Answers: So you want to be a pilot? Here’s how.

Michael asks:

I am an aspiring airline pilot and I was wondering what were the steps you took to get hired with the airlines. So far I am 15 and starting my flight training with the Civil Air Patrol.

So you want to be a pilot? You’ve probably read the stories of the expensive flight training, years of instructing followed by long working hours at a regional with shockingly low pay rates. Perhaps you aspire to eventually make it to the ‘majors’ or a secure corporate jet job, where you might find some stability and decent pay if the airline doesn’t restructure in bankruptcy or the corporate flight department doesn’t shut down during a cutback.

There’s plenty of turbulence in any flying career. That fact hasn’t changed since the ’70s, to be honest. But pilots are still attracted to the job for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to beat the view or the flexibility in your schedule, and some carriers will take you to places you probably wouldn’t have flown to on your own. And for anyone who loves to fly airplanes, you’d be hard pressed to land another career where you can still afford to fly a jet and still be able to accrue enough flight time in to be competent. So even with all the possible hardships, you’ve decided to chart a course to becoming a pilot. But where do you start?

By far, this is the most frequently asked question we get for Gadling’s Plane Answers column. Since it’s been twenty years since I was acquiring my ratings and looking for a job, I’ll do my best to offer some suggestions to help you along in your career path, and I’ll save the story of my climb through the civilian process for another post.

I’d also like to see some suggestions from those who are learning to fly now, as well. So if that applies to you, leave a comment or two about your path.

This post will deal with the more common paths to an airline pilot job in the United States. I hope to tackle some of the steps needed in the U.K., which is representative of the process in Europe, in a future post.

Let me warn you, not only is the process to becoming a pilot a long one, but because of the different choices available to you, this post may be almost as protracted as your career track. But don’t get discouraged. Having a variety of options is a good thing.

So let’s begin.
In the United States, there are two categories of pilots hired at airlines, and they both involve a few different choices.


If you’re young enough and you have close to perfect vision with no other disqualifying medical issues, the military route offers flight training in high performance aircraft at no monetary cost to you. It will, however, mean a commitment to fly in the Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard for a number of years after you get your wings.

You are smart to get a head start by joining your local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol. The CAP offers a taste of the military way of doing things and, most more importantly, offers you a way to get some flight time, often taking you to your first solo flight and perhaps even more. You’ll be required to put in time at meetings and even volunteer for search and rescue missions, but you will also have the opportunity to fly some of their aircraft, such as a Cessna 172 at significantly lower rates than you could through a flight school.

If the CAP isn’t in your area, go to and sign up for a $100 into flight at a local flight school. It may be all you need to get hooked on flying.

Military flying almost always requires a bachelor’s degree and you may prefer to attend a university under the ROTC program, which may pay for a portion of your schooling as well. After school, you’ll start your flight training with whatever branch you chose. If you’re qualified, you can also aim for the Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard Academy where you’ll have a good shot at a flying position upon graduation, and you’ll get an amazing education at their University.

Landing an academy position isn’t easy. You’ll need a recommendation from a member of Congress at the very least. But it’s worth a try if you have the grades.

If you already have a college degree, you can also try the National Guard in your state. Once your training is finished, your commitment to the Guard is usually limited to a weekend or two a month for a few years. But you should be prepared to find yourself activated with short notice for a much longer tour or tours should your services be required.

Guard pilots often fly F-16s and military transports such as the C-130, C-141 and the C-5. The Army Guard also has helicopter units and airlines have been known in the past to hire these pilots as well, since many of them have fixed wing (airplane) experience as well.

Regardless of your military path, active duty or reserves, make sure you’ll be able to secure a flying spot in the military before agreeing to a long term commitment. I’d also look into the odds of becoming a drone pilot, something airlines aren’t likely interested in anytime soon.

Since I went the civilian route, I’m hopeful we’ll get some comments here with even more helpful advice on the best way to land a military flying position.


My civilian route involved going to college while flying and scrambling for ratings at a nearby airport that was not associated with the university.

Today, a college degree in just about any subject is usually required by the major airlines. Mine was in management, but l’d encourage you to major in something that you could use for an alternate career if you can’t find a flying job right away or if you are ever furloughed. Many pilots have side businesses or interests, so think about some of these options when you consider your degree.

You may want to accomplish your solo flight and your private pilot license as soon as possible. The minimum age to solo is 16, but you must be 17 for a private license (PPL in Europe), which will allow you to take passengers up in the air.

Getting from the 60 or so hours you’ll have at the end of your private to the 190 to 250 hours needed to get a Commercial license can be challenging. I borrowed some money and bought a very inexpensive ($5,500 in the ’80s) 1946 two-seat Luscombe airplane that burned less than five gallons an hour. The same airplane today would sell for around $20,000, but you’ll likely get your money out of it when you’re ready to sell it, provided it was in decent shape when you bought the plane.

Building flight time is something you can do while working at a job, preferably at the airport or in some way involved in aviation. Your CAP work is very helpful when you want to rent one of their airplanes to build time.

Now you’ll need to be focused on getting the trifecta of ratings you’ll need-the commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings-to fly for a living.

You can start with the instrument rating after you have 50 hours of pilot-in-command cross country time.

Upon reaching about 220 hours, you can work on your training for a commercial license. By the time you finish the training at a Part 61 school (more on that later) you will have reached the 250 hours needed. The multi-engine rating can be added on at this time, as well as a Certified Flight Instructor rating.

Part 141

The FAA allows pilots to get a commercial license at 190 hours if they train at what is called a part 141 school. These schools are audited and certified by the FAA and are required to provide a structured course of training that meets certain minimum hours of ground school instruction, its instructors follow an approved syllabus and the school must follow a specific set of requirements defined by the FAA.

Part 141 schools are good at leading you through the process, but if you are training with a freelance instructor or you want to fly at your own pace, a part 61 school may be preferable. I earned my private license through a part 61 school and picked up my advanced ratings with a 141 school. Do a little shopping around when you’re ready to decide.

It might surprise you to learn that most instructors have recently secured their ratings and are instructing as a way to build flight time while being paid. They’re not getting rich, but at least they’re no longer paying $100+ an hour for flight time.

Most pilots would then find themselves flight instructing for a while, before possibly moving on to another odd flying job such as light twin-engine charter flying or even traffic duty for local T.V. and radio stations.

There have been times-as recently as last year-when regional airlines were hiring pilots with the FAA minimum requirements to get their commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings. However, there’s a congressional push since the Colgan Air accident to require 1,000 or 1,500 hours for anyone flying passengers for a regional airline. If this were to happen, the pool of candidates would dry up quickly once the hiring begins again.

Your seat?

Universities and Academies

Many have heard of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a school with campuses in Florida and Arizona that offers a college education while also providing an immersive flight training environment.

But there are others as well, such as the University of North Dakota, Western Michigan University, Purdue, Daniel Webster College, and Parks College in St. Louis. There’s a great aviation university discussion thread from ten years ago at that is rather enlightening.

You may have also seen ads for the Delta Connection Academy (formerly the Comair Aviation Academy), Gulfstream International, Mesa Airlines Pilot Development and ATP. These outfits will take you from zero time all the way through your ratings and even up to an ATP in some cases. A few are affiliated with regional airlines and promise an interview at the carrier after a period of flight instructing with the company.

Be sure to do a search on these companies before jumping in. I wouldn’t, for example, recommend Gulfstream International or Mesa after doing a bit of research. The others had some positive reviews, however.

This is a really tough time to be looking for any type of job. In December of 2012 airlines will again see a number of job openings after retirements dropped to almost zero after the mandatory retirement age was raised by five years from sixty to sixty-five in 2007. I’m hopeful that we’ll start to see an uptick in the economy and movement that will make all your efforts now worthwhile.

It’s not the job for everyone, and there will certainly be speed bumps along the way, but unlike Sully Sullenberger, I would still recommend an airline pilot job to my kids or anyone who’s addicted to flying.

I stumbled across a post from Varrin Swearingen, a pilot who worked his way through the Comair Academy, flew for Comair as a co-pilot and captain on turboprops and jets and then went to work for World Airways. Varrin, like myself, knew he wanted to fly for a living. He was well aware of the challenges that goal presented, including the potential for less than stellar schedules and anemic pay rates.

If you have realistic expectations going in, you’ll be able to see the job for what it is later-a great opportunity to fly to places you wouldn’t have otherwise seen, in an airplane you enjoy flying, and with people you consider good friends. Oh, and the view exceeds that of any CEO’s corner office.

If you made it this far into the post, and you’re seriously considering a flying career, I have one last bit of advice. When you get the job, don’t get too spun up over contract negotiations or the latest rumors and rants posted to online pilot forums. Always try to remember just how much you wanted the job when you went in for your interview. And take a moment when you’re flying a visual approach at night over Boston or New York to glance out the window for just a second and think about just how amazing it is to fly.

If you’ve recently been through some of the above process, please comment below. I’d love to hear about your experiences. And if you’d like to hear about others who have ‘caught the flying bug’ and where they are now, take a listen to episode 24 of Joe d’Eon’s incredibly well produced and entertaining free podcast, “Come fly with me.” [itunes link]

So good luck Michael and let us know in the comments how your CAP experience is going.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answer’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work. Or follow on Twitter: @VeryJr

Plane Answers: How a pilot’s flight time relates to their experience

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Ted asks:

Due to the latest streak of incidents and accidents I have seen the pilot’s experience written down in flight hours – the captain on the Turkish plane that crashed at Amsterdam had ~15,000 hrs experience, Capt. Sullenberger almost 20,000 hrs and his first officer 15,000+ hrs while the first officer on the ill-fated Colgan Air flight 3407 only had 774 flight hours experience.

However, I would like to know how this translates into years of experience; how many flight hours does a pilot accumulate in an average year; what are the differences between a long-haul pilot (747,767,777 etc), a pilot that flies shorter flights (737/A320) and a pilot for a regional airline.

If possible, I’d like to find out how a pilot’s career looks in flight hours; from moment 0 when he/she takes the first flight lesson, to the PPL and so on all the way to a Senior Flight Captain with the hours attained at the most important milestones. (I know these vary greatly from case to case, but how would it look like on a more or less approximated average?)

Oh, and one more thing: are the flight hours calculated from take-off to touch-down or do they count ground time as well?

Hi Ted,

That’s a great question.

As you mentioned, the milestones in one pilot’s career can vary wildly from another pilot’s. But I could probably give you a general range.
The researcher Anders Ericsson claims that to be an expert in any field or subject takes 10,000 hours of practice – a milestone in flying I’ve only recently reached.

Here’s a breakdown of the typical flight times for various pilots.

Student pilot

A student pilot can solo whenever an instructor is comfortable signing them off. That can be anywhere between six and twenty hours, typically.

Private Pilot

The private pilot license takes at least 40 hours to accomplish, but most finish it after 60 or 70 hours. That license allows a pilot to carry passengers with them, but not for hire.

Commercial, mult-engine and instrument rated pilot, with instructor ratings

After about 250 hours, a pilot can work toward their advanced ratings which are a requirement to flight instruct or to fly for hire.

Regional Co-pilot

Regional airlines that hire pilots for twin-engine turboprops and RJs (regional jets) typically hire pilots into the co-pilot seat with between 500 to 1,500 hours. After some time in the right seat-as little as six months and as many as ten years-the co-pilot would upgrade to the captain position.

Regional Captain

To be a captain at a regional airline, you would have to have an ATP or Air Transport Pilot license. This license requires at least 1,500 hours, along with a significant amount of cross-country and night flying time. So the typical regional captain could have between 1,500 hours and 30,000 hours.

The large spread in flight time is because some pilots end up at the regional carrier during a time of limited hiring by major airlines. After flying for ten or so years at the regional, it becomes a difficult decision to leave the company to fly for less money initially at a major airline. So many of those captains elect to stay put until they retire at the age of 65.

Regional pilots fly close to the FAA maximum allowable 1,000 hours a year.

National and major airline Co-pilots

The usual new-hire at a national or major airline has between 1,500 hours and 10,000 hours, typically. Military pilots generally don’t accrue the large number of hours in a short amount of time like regional pilots, so they tend to have between 1,500 and 3,000 hours when hired. Civilian pilots often have at least 2,500 hours, and more commonly now, 5,000 hours before landing a job at the majors.

The holy grail. Captain!

Captains at the major and national carriers usually have at least two to 15 years with the airline before upgrading. Since we’ve had an unusually stagnant decade of growth among the legacy airlines, many have between fifteen and twenty years with a company before moving to the right seat. In fact, I just had my sixteen-year anniversary and I’m still firmly planted in the right seat with no real outlook for an upgrade anytime soon. I’m sure once the retirements and growth pick up, that will change quickly.

National and Major airline pilots fly between 600 and 1,000 hours per year.

Notice I didn’t separate the wide-body, long-haul pilots from the narrow-body domestic pilots with regard to experience, since there’s relatively little flight time differences. Some pilots prefer the international flying and some would rather fly within the U.S., or their carrier is domestic only, so the flight time is relatively similar between those groups.

In the airline world, flight time is measured from the time the aircraft pushes back to the time it pulls up to the gate at the destination. Military pilots often only log the time flown in the air, without the taxi flight time included, so that can also account for the lower numbers among those pilots.

But flight time really isn’t the only way to get a feel for a pilot’s experience. Airlines look at a pilots currency, or how much they’ve flown in the past year, the amount of flight time they have in a particular type of aircraft and what type of flying they’ve been doing. A domestic pilot will accomplish a lot of takeoff and landings and gain valuable experience quicker than, say, a long-haul 747 pilot flying as one of the three or four pilots on the airplane.

And it’s also important to keep in mind that we’re all human. All pilots have to fight off complacency, as even 500-hour pilots can start to feel they’ve got this flying thing figured out.

The Turkish pilot with 15,000 hours may have been complacent or lacked currency. The facts on that accident are coming out and it’s looking like an automation failure wasn’t picked up by the pilots while on approach resulting in a loss of airspeed. Proof positive that even a 15,000 hour pilot (equivalent to nearly two straight years in the air) can be caught off guard at times.

So flight time isn’t the definitive tool used to judge a pilot’s experience level. It’s just the most often used.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monda
Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.