Flight Time vs Duty Time

While the most important part of a pilot’s shift is the time the plane is in the air (flight time), they have other duties prior to take-off, including reviewing flight plans, fuel plans, weight & balance calculations, weather, air traffic control recommendations and running through pre-flight checklists.

Jurisdictions like the United States have established two different types of limits to reduce the risk of fatigue:

  • Duty period – which includes both flight time and the pre- and post-flight duties, and
  • Flight time – also referred to as “stick time” – includes the time that the pilot is actively engaged in the flight deck.

In the U.S., pilots’ maximum duty period based on the time of day their duty begins (shorter duty periods at night). There is also an added flight time limit for U.S. pilots – 9 hours during the day or 8 hours at night.

NASA recommends a maximum duty period of 12 hours during daytime or 10 hours at night. Considering pre- and post-flight duties, that would mean an 8.5 hour flight time at night, or 10.5 hours during the day.

Canada’s current rules allow for maximum duty period, day or night, of 14 hours. This duty period can be extended to 17 hours in the case of what is known as “unforeseen operational circumstances,” which can involve common occurrences like mechanical issues, de-icing, weather challenges, or passenger delays. In 14 hours of duty time, a pilot typically has about 12.5 hours of flight time.