December 2015 Issue

How Flight Hours Translate to Experience

We measure experience in hours and ratings, but being comfortable with the proposed operation is as good a yardstick as any.

Whenever two or more pilots get together in the same place, the conversation eventually gets around to which of them has the greatest number of flight hours. The yardstick of how much time you’ve spent aloft is more than just small-scale bragging rights, of course—it also can determine whether you’re eligible for a subsequent certificate, or even legal to carry passengers. And then there’s the matter of insurance coverage. The simple fact is that most of the aviation world measures how competent we are in the cockpit by how much time we may have spent there. The inference is that high-time pilots are safer, and that low-time pilots are less safe. The fallacy is highlighted if we put someone with 20,000 hours as PIC of a 747 into a piston single and ask him or her to perform an engine-out approach from downwind: Without some practice—i.e., some experience with that particular operation—it’s not likely to turn out well. What is experience? How to measure it? Most important: If it’s so valuable, how can we get more of it?

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