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Pilot Schedules/Routines

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TOPIC: Pilot Schedules/Routines

GOAL: To learn about the types of schedules and daily routine pilots live


Level: Easy



Exercise #1: Read about pilot schedules and their typical lifestyle, and then proceed to Exercise #2

It’s simple: If you want a typical “9-5” job, then flying airliners is not for you. In fact, most airline pilots have a very non-traditional work schedule. Expect to work weekends, holidays, and lots of early mornings or late nights as a junior pilot. There is no such thing as a "9 to 5" schedule in most flying jobs. Whether you work weekends or holidays depends on your seniority and what schedules you can bid.

Seniority dictates the types of planes a pilot flies, as well as his or her schedule. Pilots who are relatively new to the airline will fly reserve, meaning they do not have a set flying schedule. A reserve pilot may have “on call” duty for 12 hours or longer at a time. In this time, the pilot has to be packed and ready to fly, because the flight scheduler might page them at any moment. If a pilot is called in, he or she reports to the airport immediately for a flight assignment (for many airlines, the pilot must be ready to go within an hour of being paged). Reserve pilots are called up when the scheduled pilot becomes ill or can't make the flight for some other reason. The life of the reserve pilot is largely unpredictable: Pilots might spend several days on reserve and never get paged, or they might get paged every day. And when they report for duty, they could be flying over to the next state or they might be putting in a three-day trip to another part of the world.

Pilots with more seniority pick out a regular flight schedule, called a line. Pilots holding a line live a more "ordinary" sort of life, in the sense that they know ahead of time when they'll be working. But even these pilots spend a lot of time away from their families, and they never know what delays they'll encounter. In the United States, a pilot's scheduled flight time should not exceed 8 consecutive hours for domestic flights or 12 hours for international flights. In actuality, pilots may work for more than 16 hours straight, since flights are often delayed or extended.

Let's take an “average” pilot flying domestic and continental routes for a large international carrier. Such a pilot might work 3-4 days per week on average, and will spend 150 to 200 nights per year away from home. Those work days will include an average of 5-8 hours of flying, and anywhere from 8 to 14 hours of duty time. In the course of a year, a pilot will fly 600 to 1000 hours (U.S. legal maximum) and will put in 2,000 or more hours on duty.

A typical 30-day monthly domestic schedule might be something like 3 days on, 3 days off, 4 days on, 3 days off, 2 days on, 2 days off, 4 days on, 4 days off, 3 days on, 2 days off. A 28-day inter-continental schedule might be something like 1 day on, 1 day off (layover), 1 day on, 4 days off.

While a pilot’s overall schedule is somewhat unstable the daily work routine is more predictable. Flight crews arrive to work well before (about 2 hours) their first departure time. This allows them to plan their flights carefully. They thoroughly check their aircraft to make sure that the engines, controls, instruments, and other systems are functioning properly. Pilots also make sure that baggage or cargo has been loaded correctly. They confer with flight dispatchers and aviation weather forecasters to find out about weather conditions en route and at their destination. Based on this information, they choose a route, altitude, and speed that will provide the safest, most economical, and smoothest flight.

Most pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because the majority of flights involve overnight layovers. According to the Airline Pilots Association, pilots spend approximately 360 hours a month away from their home base. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations, transportation between the hotel and airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses.


Exercise #2: Watch two videos about pilot lifestyles:


  1. An interview with retired British Airways Captain Ian Pullin.


  1. A musical presentation illustrating a typical airline pilot’s overseas trip.

Exercise #3: Answer the following questions, which are based on the information contained in the text and videos you’ve just studied.

  1. Pilots that are new to a particular airline usually begin flying ______.
  1. a line
  2. reserve
  3. part-time
  4. none of the above

Answer = b

  1. A pilot’s seniority is based on____?
  1. age
  2. when they first received their flight certificates
  3. airline hire date
  4. the type of aircraft they have flown before

Answer = c

  1. Another name for a new pilot is:
    1. junior pilot
    2. young pilot
    3. ace
    4. rookie

Answer = a

  1. True or False: A pilot’s schedule never changes.
  1. True
  2. False

Answer = b

  1. According to the Airline Pilots Association, pilots spend approximately ____ hours a month away from their home base.
  1. 360
  2. 240
  3. 120
  4. 500.

Answer = a

  1. Retired British Airways Captain Ian Pullin said job satisfaction and ______ were the best aspects about being an airline pilot.
  1. medical benefits
  2. the pay
  3. traveling
  4. varied work routine

Answer = d

  1. True or False: In the second video, the pilots visited the Eifel Tower.
  1. True
  2. False

Answer = a

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