Reaching 500 Hours

Goals, time building, industry changes, and future advancement.  A look at the modern career pilot.

Flight photo of earth and sky.
Flying Over Texas
Chart of flight hours
Work Weeks Include up to 30 Hours of Flight

At the 500-hour milestone, experience comes more quickly for me.  I enjoy six days per week at the airport, often arriving at 6:45 am and returning home by 8 or 9 pm.  My schedule is not consistent, though.  If I am training new students, the appointments always fall between 7 am and 5 pm.  But the instrument students are scheduled by airplane availability, which means my shift sometimes begins at 4 pm and ends at midnight or 1 am.  Fortunately, my company requires ten hours rest.  I stay home and sleep if the schedule gets overbooked or loaded with back-to-back shifts.  There is always a chance of bad weather or mechanical problems forcing cancellations within the schedule, which adds to the inconsistency.

A few years ago, someone in my position could spend their spare time looking into which airlines are hiring pilots, at which experience level, and at which locations.  This changed with the addition of FAR § 121.436 last year, requiring all new airline pilots to hold an airline transport pilot certificate.  I am not yet eligible to apply for that certificate, which has become my next career goal.

In terms of the calendar month when I could be ATP certified, there is no precise forecast.  The situation is optimistic, but complex.  Under the provisions of FAR § 61.160 (b), I could accumulate 1,000 hours of flight time within perhaps 4 to 12 months, and still have no expectation of eligibility.

R-ATP § 61.160 (b) R-ATP § 61.160 (f)
Requirements Minimums Status Minimums Status
Age 21 years Yes 21 years Yes
Total Time as a Pilot 1,000 hours 53% 1,500 hours 35%
Education Bachelor’s degree Yes n/a
Concentration Aviation major Yes n/a
Certification R-ATP eligibility No n/a
Recognized Coursework 60 credit hours TBD n/a
Instrument Ground § 141 curriculum Yes n/a
Commercial Ground § 141 curriculum Yes n/a
Instrument Flight § 141 curriculum Yes n/a
Commercial Flight § 141 curriculum Yes n/a
Cross-Country Time 200 hours 80% 200 hours 80%
Night Time 100 hours by credit 100 hours by credit
AMEL Time 50 hours 58% 50 hours 58%
Instrument Time 75 hours by credit 75 hours by credit
PIC Time 250 hours Yes 250 hours Yes
PIC Cross-Country Time 100 hours Yes 100 hours Yes
PIC Night Time 25 hours Yes 25 hours Yes
ATP CTP Requirement Effective Aug 2014 n/a n/a
Knowledge Test Validity 2 years or 5 years Dec ’14 Dec ’14
Medical Certificate 2nd Class Yes 2nd Class Yes

To date, the FAA has authorized R-ATP degree programs in only 25 of our 50 States.  By my anecdotal estimate, that means nationwide less than half of such degree programs were approved in the past six months.  My degree is among those not yet considered eligible.

Under the provisions of FAR § 61.160 (f), I could accumulate 1,500 hours of flight time within perhaps 9 to 24 months.  I could avoid the aviation degree requirements then.  But this raises the question, what value will these regulations have that far in the future?  I might qualify for a full ATP certificate before achieving R-ATP eligibility in either category.  Will the R-ATP regulations prove to be ineffective in many similar situations?

Financially, being a flight instructor to build experience is a real mixed bag of pros and cons.  There is a huge up-side to this position, which is the monetary value of the experience itself.  If I can add 1,000 hours to my logbook over the course of 12 months, I am saving over $100,000 in fuel and rental costs to pay for that same flight time.

The cash flow situation is a huge challenge though.  If my expenses consisted of a cheap apartment shared with a roommate, utilities, cell phone, Internet service, groceries, and car payments, I would barely break even.  That doesn’t include student loans, health insurance, savings, or any kind of disposable income.  My short-term financial goal is to transition from cash flow negative to cash flow neutral, and that won’t happen overnight.

I am lucky to be at a large flight school with opportunity for advancement.  Qualifying and obtaining ATP certification is compatible with my current job.  The choice to pursue an airline job or to continue advancing within the same company makes little difference right now.  I have the luxury of making that decision at a later time.

When I reach 1,000 hours or receive an eligibility letter, I plan to post an update about my progress.  In the meantime, I’m excited about reaching 500 and look forward to more seasons of instructing flight students.

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