How does a pilot drive a plane?
How Many Hours Can Pilots Fly A Day?
How many hours can pilots work in a day / week / month / year?
A guide to pilot flight time limitations and how airlines prevent pilot fatigue
How many hours are pilots allowed to fly a day?
In Europe, the maximum flight duty time which can be planned for the pilot to work without in-flight rest is 13 hours. However, the limits for how many hours a pilot can work in a day, week or month can be complex and depend on many factors.
The amount of hours pilots can work in one day vary by their time zone acclimatisation, the amount of sectors they are going to operate (number of flights), and how many flight crew onboard (for long haul flights). There are also restrictions on duties that have several early starts in a row or time off required following night flights. There are requirements for a fixed amount of days off during a set period, maximum flight and duty time limits for periods of 7 days, 14 days, 28 days and annually which can be seen in the example below. There are also requirements that state a minimum period of rest (normally 12 hours but can be less or more) between each day of flying.
Max Duty Hours in 7 days / 14 days / 28 days
EASA who govern European airlines, stipulate the following:
The total duty periods to which a crew member may be assigned shall not exceed:
- (1) 60 duty hours in any 7 consecutive days;
- (2) 110 duty hours in any 14 consecutive days; and
- (3) 190 duty hours in any 28 consecutive days, spread as evenly as practicable throughout that period
A duty period is defined as when a pilot checks into the airport to commence their pre-flight duties, to after landing once they have completed their post flight duties. This is not the same as a Flight Duty Period, which covers the period from when the aircraft is under its own power (typically when the parking brake is released) to when the aircraft comes to a stop (parking brake on) for the crews last flight.
Max Flying Hours in a Month & Year
The total flight time of the sectors on which an individual crew member is assigned as an operating crew member shall not exceed:
- (1) 100 hours of flight time in any 28 consecutive days;
- (2) 900 hours of flight time in any calendar year; and
- (3) 1 000 hours of flight time in any 12 consecutive calendar months.
Maximum Flight Hours in a Day
In terms of how many hours a pilot can work in one day you may be surprised to learn that it is normally far higher that Lorry drivers. A flight duty period is one day’s work and that starts from when a pilot arrives at the airport to complete their pre-flight duties, which involves looking at fuel planning, weather and briefing the crew. They then have to get to the aircraft early enough to complete their checks and start boarding customers to ensure an on time departure. Most short haul flights have a flight duty period that would start 1 hour before the flight and long haul is typically 90 minutes before.
A flight duty period ends when the pilot sets the park brake at the final arrival airport. Although the pilots still have work to do after this it is not deemed to be dangerous if they are tired as they are not flying customers around any more, although they still have to drive home!
A short haul pilot working for a low-cost airline would typically do 2 long sectors (flights), 4 shorter ones or perhaps even 2 long ones with 2 short ones after or before.
Airline rostering is a complex business. Airlines have a responsibility to roster pilots work that they can safely complete, however pilots are an expensive to airlines so, they also need to get as much work out of them as possible. It is a fine balance to strike.
Below is a table which sets out the normal maximum hours a crew member can work for a flight duty period, assuming the crew member is ‘acclimatised’. These hours can be extended through in-flight rest (i.e. having more than 2 pilots onboard) and Captains discretion, both of which are described later on in the article.
A Typical Short Haul Day
A typical days work will see a pilot reporting early in the morning for example at an airport in the UK to fly down to the Mediterranean, perhaps somewhere in Spain, they will then fly back and perhaps fly again to somewhere closer within an hour or so, possibly within the UK or close by in Europe.
The maximum flight duty period under EASA regulations for a start time of 0600 or later would be 12 hours. Longer than you thought?
Don’t forget although the flight duty period ends when the park brake is set on the final sector in terms of the legal limits on regulations the pilots still then have to say goodbye to their customers, complete their post flight checks onboard, file any paperwork in the office, clear customs and immigration, get to the car park and drive home.
What happens when delays occur?
What happens if the flight is running late? You may have been on a flight and heard the expression by pilots, cabin crew or ground staff ‘pilots are out of hours’. If they are out of hours it won’t be that they are just a little tired and don’t fancy competing the day’s work. It will mean in the example above the duty will have exceeded 12 hours, however even in that case they can legally carry on.
The Captain has the authority to exercise what is called as ‘discretion’. This is an extension to the maximum duty period (12 hours in the case above) if he/she feels after looking at all the factors and consulting the crew on their tiredness levels that they can safely extend their working day. The rules state he / she can extend it by up to 3 hours, but if it appeared the 3-hour extension was to be breached the pilots would have to land at the nearest suitable airport. The Captain can of course refuse to operate into discretion if he / she feels it would not be safe to do so. The Airline is not allowed to put any pressure on the crew to operate into discretion, and it is the Captain’s decision only, the airline can only ask if they are willing and able.
On long haul flights there is also a requirement for a number of local nights rest at home base / airport depending on the time zone you have been in (if equal or greater to 4 hours difference to home base / airport) and the number of nights you have spent in the different time zone. This is to try to ensure pilots are adequately rested and acclimatised for their next duty.
So as you can see there are many factors involved and some regulations are based on scientific research to help prevent fatigue. It is a well known fact and genuine concern in the industry as increased fatigue has a direct correlation to reducing safety as most air accidents are caused by some sort of pilot error at some point and many of these incidents have fatigue as a contributing factor.
The FAA (American authority) made changes to their regulations in a bid to reduce fatigue particularly in the small commuter airlines after the Colgan Air flight 3407 in 2009 accident which was attributed to pilot error likely caused by fatigue. Other air accidents attributed to fatigue include Korean Airlines flight 801, American Airlines flight 1420 and Corporate Airlines flight 1566.
Typical Long Haul Day
Long haul flights are slightly different as they sometimes have more than 2 pilots to allow a longer flight duty period by giving each pilot some rest away from the controls, these areas are called bunks as they are like bunk bed areas normally in the roof space of long haul aircraft. Some long haul aircraft do not have bunk areas so the airline would have to block a seat off (normally a first class or club class seat) so the pilot can get some rest there instead.
If a pilot started early in the morning like the example above and did one flight then the maximum duty period is 13 hours. The increase in maximum flight duty period is due to the fact it is deemed less fatiguing to do 1 flight than 2, 3 or 4. There are also fewer mistakes likely to be made as they are only setting up the aircraft and departing and arriving once.
Crew Rest Quarters Onboard / Crew Bunks
Even with this increase in the maximum duty period it would not be long enough to allow some long haul flights to take place. Some long haul sectors have flight times in excessive of 13 hours and that does not include the pre-flight duties, taxi out and taxi in. It is forbidden to plan to use discretion. Discretion is only permitted if unforeseen circumstances occur throughout the day like a technical problem, weather issues, air traffic control delays etc. So, as mentioned above airlines can extend the maximum duty period by rostering an additional pilot or sometimes even 2 additional pilots. With one extra pilot and bunk rest facilities onboard the EASA authorities allow an airline to extend the maximum duty period in the example above by an additional 3 hours which would be a total of 16 hours.
Cabin Crew Restrictions
Cabin crew have similar restrictions as pilots, sometimes identical limits. The main objective of these regulations is to ensure pilots and cabin crew have the required alertness levels at crucial stages of flight – take off and landing.
Controlled Rest While Flying
If pilots still feel tired during a flight duty period, they can opt to have ‘controlled rest’. This is a short period (no longer than 45 minutes) of sleep in the seat at the controls. There are various requirements including the seat has to be pulled back from the controls, the rudder pedals moved forward, so the pilot cannot inadvertently move the pedals while asleep, the other pilot must feel alert enough to fly the aircraft, it must be during a period of low workload during the cruise. It is normally a requirement to inform the cabin crew to ensure they keep checking on the other operating pilot.
Most aircraft have systems fitted whereby if no controls are touched or buttons pushed for a period of time an alarm will sound. The maximum of 45 minutes sleep / rest has been scientifically researched to increase your alertness levels for the landing phase of the flight without allowing the pilot to fall into a deep sleep. Once awake again the pilot that was sleeping must not touch the controls for 10-15 minutes until they have fully woken and feel fit and alert once more.
It may sound alarming that pilots have a quick nap on occasions with the rules above applied, but it has been proven to significantly reduce fatigue and improve alertness levels for the critical landing phase.
Remember the key objective with any flight time limitation rules is to allow airlines to operate their schedules as efficiently as possible while ensuring pilots and cabin crew are sufficiently rested to perform their duties safely.
How Much Rest Do Pilots Need Between Flights?
Generally speaking, pilots need 12 hours rest or the length of the preceding duty if it was more than 12 hours. If a pilot was on duty for 8 hours, they would need 12 hours rest, but if they were on duty for 16 hours, they would need 16 hours rest. This can be lowered under some circumstances when delays occur, and you are away from your home base. ‘Split Duties’ can also be utilised where crew rest in a hotel whilst in the middle of a duty, which has the same effect as in-flight rest – it extends their max allowable duty time.
Crew Bunk Pictures
Below are examples of cabin crew and flight crew bunk rest facilities on long haul aircraft:
Parking a 200-Ton Airliner: How Pilots Move a Plane Around on the Ground
Charlie Page is a senior first officer on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner with over 10,000 hours of flying experience, both around Europe on the A320 family and worldwide on the B787. He is also a freelance writer, contributing to a range of print and online publications.
June 15, 2019
13 min read
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Aircraft are designed to fly. When they’re going to spend more than 15 hours in the air, they need to perform as efficiently as possible. From getting the most power out of the engines to maximizing the lift from the wings, the main part of the design process is focused on the airborne aspect. However, it’s no good creating the perfect flying machine if you can’t get it to and from the terminal building. So, how do you get 200 tons of aircraft from the runway to the gate?
The Airport Set Up
Bigger Than Cities
Large international airports can be massive places. Denver, Colorado’s main airport, for example, takes up an area of 53 square miles. By comparison, the area of Manhattan is 34 square miles, San Francisco is 47 square miles and Miami is 36 square miles. At some airports like Amsterdam, once you’ve landed you can still have several miles left to taxi until you reach the terminal building. Conversely, some busy airports are so restricted for space that it poses real issues for aircraft getting around on the ground. New York’s JFK is a prime example of this.
The area on which aircraft move on the airfield can broadly be separated into three separate categories. The ramp, or apron, is where the stands are located for aircraft to park. The runways are what the aircraft use to takeoff and land. And the taxiways, which they use to get between the two.
Stands, Taxiways and Runways
At most international airports, the runways are either 45 meters or 60 meters wide and can vary in length. London Heathrow has one of the longest runways in the UK at just under 4 kilometers, or around 2.5 miles. At around 380 tons on landing, runways have to be able to withstand repeated impact from aircraft such as the Airbus A380. They also need to ensure that water drains off quickly when it rains so that it doesn’t become too slippery.
Taxiways, too, can vary in width and load-bearing strength depending on the airfield. Depending on these factors, they are categorized so that pilots know which taxiways they are able to use for their aircraft type. The taxiways at some airports can be particularly tight, especially for bigger aircraft. With a wingspan of more than 60 meters, pilots on the 787 Dreamliner always have to be mindful of their wingtips.
Parking stands can also vary in width and length, depending on the aircraft type they are to accommodate. It is on these stands where aircraft park and are unloaded and loaded between flights. They have to provide electrical power for the aircraft whilst the engines are shut down and also enough area around the aircraft to give the multitude of servicing vehicles space to access the aircraft. At some big airports, when not in use by a bigger aircraft, one stand can be used by two smaller aircraft.
How Aircraft Move
Most Aircraft Can’t Reverse
When you arrive at the gate for your flight, more often than not you’ll get a great view of the nose of the aircraft through the terminal window. If you look closely, you’ll be able to see us pilots preparing the aircraft for departure. Funny enough, we can see you peering out at us too, so if we wave, don’t be embarrassed to wave back.
However, the obvious problem with parking facing the terminal is that in order to get to the runway, we need to move backward off the stand first. If this was on your drive at home, you’d just pop your car into reverse, back out onto the street and off you go. Unfortunately, aircraft are unable to do this as they don’t have a reverse gear. In order to get round this problem, we use the assistance of a pushback tug.
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Pushback Tugs: The Little Engines That Could
For smaller aircraft, the pushback tug doesn’t require a massive amount of power. They utilize the weight of the tug, sometimes up to 60 tons, to ensure that the wheels don’t just spin on the tarmac. «The small ones have enough power to push and tow an aircraft up to a 757,» says Airside MUC, a pushback driver at Munich International Airport. «The functionality is pretty simple. We connect a tow-bar at the aircraft first, then at the tug.»
It takes skill to push an aircraft back using these types of tug. «You have two steering axis here at the nose gear and at the tug where the tow-bar is connected,» he said. «So when you steer right, the nose of the aircraft goes opposite.»
However, with bigger aircraft, tug designers ran into a problem. Even with a 60-ton tug, there isn’t enough weight to stop the tug wheels spinning. To get round this problem, they needed something to weigh the tug down. Something like the weight of a 560-ton A380.
Tow-barless tugs clamp around the nose wheel of the aircraft and lift it up, thus utilizing the weight of the aircraft to provide the traction for its wheels. «We need between 40 and 90 seconds to connect the tug with the aircraft and lift it up,» he added. «The Goldhofer AST-1X is the Godfather of all tugs because at 32 tons, its 16-liter 700 HP engine is enough to push all heavies easily. We use that tug for 767 up to A380.»
Engines Provide the Thrust
Once the tug has disconnected and the engines are running, the pilots call ATC for their clearance to taxi to the departure runway. They will then be issued with a series of taxiways, which will eventually take them to the departure point. At smaller airports, this may just be one taxiway. At larger airfields it could be a number of taxiways, broken up into segments to give way to other aircraft. It’s worth noting that aircraft don’t ‘taxi down the runway’. They taxi on taxiways, hence the name, taxiway. (Sometimes aircraft do have to taxi on the runway, but this is relatively infrequent. So, for the case of this article, I decided to keep it simple.)
If this was your car, you’d put the gear into drive or first gear and press the accelerator. This would inject fuel into the engine and provide power to turn the wheels and off you’d go. However, aircraft wheels aren’t connected to the engines in any way. When the pilots squeeze the thrust levers forwards, the thrust generated from the engines pushes the aircraft forwards. The wheels merely turn under this forward power allowing the aircraft to move.
Once moving, pilots need to be able to steer the aircraft around corners. With a wingspan of 60.1 meters, the 787-8 is wider than it is long. The pilot’s eye level is 5.5 meters above the ground, and this creates a 14-meter blind spot ahead of the aircraft. So, accurate taxiing is essential.
This is done through two different sets of controls. Limited steering is possible using the rudder pedals, which sit underneath the pilot’s feet. Unlike in your car, the pedals under our feet have very little to do with acceleration and a lot to do with braking and steering. These primarily control the rudder on the tail (mainly used in crosswind landings) and also control the brakes. However, the main source of steering comes from the nosewheel steering tiller, which can turn the nose wheel up to 70 degrees.
The Braking System
Brakes on the Main Wheels
Getting moving is no good unless you can bring the aircraft safely to a stop. To do this, each wheel on the main landing gear has a brake unit. On most aircraft, the brakes are powered by the hydraulics system. However, on the 787 Dreamliner, which I fly, the eight main wheel brakes are electrically powered instead. This means that the aircraft then produces fewer CO2 emissions due to the lower weight — 111 kilograms for each 787-9 aircraft. The simplified system also benefits engineers as the procedure to replace a brake unit is much quicker and easier.
Being such a safety critical part of the aircraft, the braking system has to work well under all conditions. This includes situations where a brake unit isn’t working. During the testing stage of the aircraft, engineers put them through a punishing process as can be seen in the video below.
It’s from this and further testing that it was determined that a Dreamliner could safely stop even with two of the eight braking units not working. The braking system also has two further features: Antiskid Protection and Autobrake. The autobrake system provides automatic braking at a deceleration rate selected by the pilots. For every landing, pilots calculate how much runway they will require depending on their weight and weather conditions. They can then select a level of autobrake to have them slowed safely to exit the runway. As soon as the aircraft touches down, the aircraft evenly applies the required braking pressure across all of the brakes. This results in smoother deceleration of the aircraft and makes it much more comfortable for passengers.
However, when landing at 190 tons on a slippery runway in the middle of winter, the last thing you want is for your wheels to start skidding. To protect against this, most airliners have an Antiskid Protection system. Each wheel has a wheel speed sensor, which, when it detects a skid, reduces the braking force until the skid is no longer detected. This ensures maximum braking efficiency is achieved, even in the most challenging of conditions.
Finding Your Way Around
Getting around some airports can be quite challenging. Taxiways seem to go all over the place, with some ending in dead ends and others leading onto runways. As a result, pilots have to keep their wits about them. To help us, taxiways are given an alphanumeric name to help differentiate them from one another. These are then depicted on a map of the airport, which is provided to the pilots.
Modern aircraft have gone one better than a map and have a moving display — very much like the navigation system in your car. Pilots are able to see exactly where the aircraft is in relation to the runways and taxiways around it. This is particularly useful at night or when the weather is bad, giving pilots greater spatial awareness and reducing errors as a result.
You may have flown thousands of miles, but the last few meters of the flight can often be the most challenging. The parking stand is a super busy place, so the pilots need to ensure that they stop the aircraft in exactly the correct spot. Too short or too far and the air bridge may not reach the door. Too far left or right and they risk clipping the wingtip of the aircraft parked next door. When it comes to this level of precision, what better to trust than the accuracy of lasers.
Laser-Guided Docking Systems
At the front of each parking stand is a docking system. Using 3-D scanning techniques, the system cannot only recognize the type of aircraft, but also detect any obstructions on the stand. As the aircraft approaches the stand, the system provides the pilots with directions to keep them lined up with the center of the stand and also the distance left to the stop mark.
Should an obstruction, such as a rogue vehicle, be detected on the stand as the aircraft approaches, the display will issue the pilots with a command to stop. This is why it’s important that you keep your seat belt fastened until the signs are turned off.
If you’ve watched any film with an aircraft in it, you’ve probably seen people waving at the pilots with what look like light sabers. This isn’t them asking for a game but instead it’s another way of guiding aircraft to their parking spot. The marshaller uses a combination of hand signals to communicate with the pilots to tell them to slow down, move left or right and to stop.
Controlling an aircraft in the air is important, but being able to steer it accurately on the ground is equally so. Pilots rely on the skill of tug drivers to position the aircraft on the taxiway before heading to the runway. They then use a combination of controls to navigate around the complicated network of taxiways before getting airborne.
After landing, the flight still isn’t over, as pinpoint parking is needed. Stray catering trucks and baggage carts can cause the aircraft to come to a sudden stop, so make sure you keep your seat belt fastened until the pilots turn off the signs.
Week 2: Aeroplanes with Amy’s Aviation
This week we’re learning all about aeroplanes with Amy’s Aviation!
Mission 3: What does the pilot do?
Everyday this week we’re learning about Aeroplanes! In this lesson Amy’s helping us learn about what the pilots do before take off.
Who is Amy Aviation?
Amy is mad about everything aeronautical (that means everything to do with planes)!
She know’s everything there is to know about planes and loves to sharing her knowledge – when she’s not busy flying around.
Now watch this video about what the pilot of a plane does before they take off…
Hopefully now you understand a little bit more about what a pilot does – they don’t just fly the plane.
The first thing a pilot will do when they get to the airport is go to the operations office
It’s here that they start to prepare for the flight.
More to click.
- Mission 5: Pharmacists
- Mission 4: Vaccinations
- Mission 3: Ambulances & Paramedics
One of things they do there is check what the weather will be like along the flight.
This is really important as if there’s a storm along the route then they might need to change course to avoid it.
Pilots will also check that the plane manual is up to date. This is the instruction book for the plane and it’s MASSIVE!
Next the pilot will go through security
Don’t think just becuase they’re the pilot they don’t have to go through securty like everybody else!
Even the pilots need to take their shoes off and step through the metal detector.
Then the pilot talks to the flight attendants on the plane
They talk to make sure everyone is up to date and knows everything that they need to.
For example if there’s a passenger who might need special help. Everyone needs to know about it.
Next the pilot will check the plane
They walk all around the plane checking that all the lights work, there is enough air in the tyres, check there are no fuel leaks and just general that the plane is okay and ready to fly!
Then they program the flight plane into the plane computer
This is just like programming a journey in a car into a sat nav, but for a plane.
Finally they get the passengers on-board and take off!
Once everyone is on the plane the pilot waits to get permission to go from Air Traffic Control.
Air Traffic Control decide what planes go when to make sure everyone is safe.
Once they get the all clear it’s time for take off!
Activity: You be the pilot!
With the help of an adult print off the passports and boarding pass templates below and make passports and boarding passes for everyone in your house.
Pretend they’re your passengers and you’re the pilot.
Do you’re pre flight checks, make sure everything is ready and take off on your flight!