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Do pilots fly everyday?

Pilots have a unique and exciting job, but a common question is – do pilots really fly everyday? The answer is not straightforward and depends on several factors. In this article, we’ll explore the key considerations around pilot schedules and flying frequency.

How often do airline pilots fly?

For major airlines in the United States, most pilots fly between 60-80 hours per month on average. Over the year this works out to 700-1000 flight hours annually. However, the frequency of flying is not necessarily daily or even weekly for airline pilots.

Airline pilot schedules are based on the concept of “duty time.” This includes the time spent actually flying the aircraft, plus pre and post flight duties such as safety checks, boarding, deplaning, refueling, and filing flight plans. The FAA mandates limits on duty time for safety reasons – pilots cannot be expected to fly for extended periods without rest.

The FAA sets the maximum duty time limits as:

  • 8 or 9 hours (based on when the pilot’s day starts)
  • 30 hours in any 7 consecutive days
  • 100 hours per calendar month

As a result, most airline pilots do not actually fly everyday. Their schedules are made up of duty days with flying assignments, intermixed with non-duty rest days.

A typical schedule might look like:

  • 3 days of flights
  • 2 days off duty
  • 2 more days of flights
  • 3 days off duty

It’s rare for airline pilots to have back-to-back duty days flying over a long stretch of consecutive days. Their schedules must be made to accommodate the FAA limits.

How often do cargo pilots fly?

Cargo pilots may fly more often than airline pilots. Cargo airlines operate on tight schedules, often through the night, to ensure packages and freight reach destinations by set times. As a result, cargo pilots tend to work longer duty days with shorter rest periods in between.

A typical schedule for a cargo pilot may look like:

  • 5 duty days flying
  • 2 days off
  • 5 more duty days
  • 3 days off

Cargo pilots can frequently have stretches of up to 7 days consecutively on duty, since they max out the FAA limits. So while not every single day, cargo pilots often fly 5+ days per week.

How often do corporate pilots fly?

For corporate pilots operating private jets, the frequency of flying varies greatly. Some corporate pilots essentially fly daily, transporting executives between business meetings and events in different cities. Others may only fly occasional chartered flights on an on-demand basis.

A light corporate schedule may entail:

  • 2 days of flights
  • 5 days off duty
  • 3 days of flights
  • 6 days off duty

Heavier corporate flying could look like:

  • 4 days of flights
  • 1 day off
  • 5 days of flights
  • 2 days off

Unlike major airlines, corporate flying is not bound by the same FAA duty limits. This allows more flexibility for corporate pilots to take on demanding schedules for private clients if desired.

How often do charter pilots fly?

Charter pilots operate non-scheduled flights on small planes and helicopters. This includes services like:

  • Tourism charters
  • Private group charters
  • Air ambulance transport
  • Pilot training

Like corporate pilots, their schedules can vary from very light occasional flights to heavy daily flying. Some examples could be:

Light charter schedule:

  • 3 flight days
  • 4 days off
  • 2 flight days
  • 5 days off

Heavy charter schedule:

  • 6 days of flights
  • 1 day off
  • 7 days of flights
  • 2 days off

Charter companies set their own duty limits based on the type of operations. Pilots that fly air tours or training flights may work long 5-7 day stretches, while emergency medical transport pilots may have limits of no more than 12 flight hours per 24 hour period.

How often do bush pilots fly?

Bush pilots operate flights in remote areas like Canada’s Yukon or Alaska. These off-airport flights provide access to mining camps, indigenous communities, fishing lodges, and other hard-to-reach areas with no road connections.

Bush pilots tend to have erratic schedules determined by local weather and demand. They may go several days without flights due to poor visibility or storms, then fly multiple trips per day carrying passengers or supplies when weather permits.

Some examples of bush pilot schedules could be:

  • 8 days grounded due to weather
  • 1 day with 5 flight hours
  • 2 days grounded
  • 2 days of 3 flight hours each


  • 4 days with no flights
  • 2 days with 2 hours flying each
  • 6 days grounded by storms
  • 3 days of 4 flight hours each

Bush pilots need to be prepared to seize good weather windows. When flying conditions allow it, they may log long duty days well above normal limits. But they also frequently go days or weeks with no flying at all.

How often do military pilots fly?

For military pilots, flying frequency depends primarily on whether their unit is deployed on active operations or not. During peacetime, non-deployed pilots may only fly a few times per week to maintain proficiency.

A typical peacetime schedule:

  • 2 days of flights – 2 hours each day
  • 5 days of ground training and drills
  • 2 days of flights – 2 hours each day
  • 3 days of simulator training

However, when deployed, military pilots will fly intensive daily operations. Combat sortie rates vary by mission type, but fighter pilots often fly multiple 2 hour missions per day when actively engaged in a campaign.

A deployed schedule may look like:

  • 12 days of 3 flight hours per day
  • 3 days reduced readiness standby
  • 10 days of 2 flight hours per day
  • 5 days of 4 flight hours per day

Long duration deployments on aircraft carriers or remote air bases allow for sustained high tempo flight operations. But during home station periods, flying scales back to just routine training hops.

Factors that affect pilot flying frequency

The main factors that determine how often pilots fly include:

  • Type of operation – Airline and cargo pilots fly more regularly than corporate, charter, bush, and military pilots.
  • FAA limits – Duty time regulations for airlines restrict consecutive days of flying.
  • Client needs – Corporate and charter pilots fly on demand for their customers.
  • Weather – Bush pilots can be grounded for days or weeks during harsh weather.
  • Deployments – Military pilots see intensive flight activity when deployed versus home station.

While every pilot needs to log hundreds of flight hours annually to maintain qualifications, the daily and weekly flight frequency varies.

Do pilots want to fly everyday?

Most pilots enjoy taking to the skies as often as possible. However, from a workload and fatigue standpoint, the consensus is that some days off are needed.

According to a survey of over 1500 pilots by an aviation industry group:

  • 17% said they would prefer to fly 6-7 days per week
  • 47% preferred to fly 3-5 days per week
  • 36% desired 1-2 days of flying per week

The same survey found that over 80% of pilots felt tired at least sometimes when reporting for duty. And over 30% admitted to making significant mistakes due to fatigue.

While pilots enjoy their time in the air, most acknowledge that regular non-duty rest periods are essential to safety. The body and mind need time to recharge.


In summary, most pilots do not actually fly everyday. Airline pilots in particular often fly only 2-5 days out of any 7 day period due to FAA duty limits. Cargo and some charter pilots fly more frequently, perhaps 5-7 days per week. Corporate, bush, and military pilots have more variable schedules based on weather and client demands.

All types of pilots need days off to avoid fatigue. While they love their time in the air, a balance of flying and non-duty days is healthiest for pilots and allows them to operate at their highest levels of performance and safety.