How often must new pilots fly to stay proficient?


My buddy Gary just wrote with a great question. He’d been chatting with another friend, Yaron, who is taking flying lessons,  and the two were discussing how many hours per month a new pilot should fly to remain proficient. Yaron figured six hours per year would be enough, while Gary was thinking more in terms of six hours per month.

At three landings per 90 days, the regs hardly require enough continuing flight experience to stay sharp. Competence can be measured at different levels, but in my mind a minimum of 2-3 flights per month are desirable to maintain basic piloting skills, particularly for those new to the game. That being said, frequency is probably more important than hours. For those on a tight budget I’d rather see two or three 45-minute flights a month in the traffic pattern, than a single 3-hour cross-country with only two landings.

One thing that always intrigues me about such questions (and they are very common) is why anyone who has invested all the time, money, and passion into becoming a pilot wouldn’t automatically want to fly a few times a month. Otherwise why learn? I suspect it’s due to budgetary concerns, which brings me to a final point. Pilots-in-training like Yaron are accustomed to making a big investment every flight, because they’re paying for the airplane and usually an instructor every time themselves. But flying once you’re licensed needn’t be nearly that expensive.

The regs of course allow expense-sharing with passengers, and more pilots should take advantage of that as an alternative to flying infrequently. Rather than flying around the neighborhood alone once a month, invite two friends to share costs and make three flights for the same investment. $100 might sound expensive, but who can’t come up with $35 for an airplane ride?

Going somewhere makes it even more palatable. Instead of flying around Phoenix for proficiency, head for Las Vegas. Better yet, make the trip with two couples and… well, does $120 apiece sound reasonable for a day in Vegas? Again, those taking lessons tend to think in terms of “flying costs $100 per hour.” But going somewhere in that hour changes the picture considerably. Invite someone along to share the cost, and it becomes more reasonable yet. The bottom line for staying proficient while controlling your flying budget? Fly smarter, rather than less often.

I suspect others have opinions and suggestions on this, so please chime in!

©2011 Gregory N. Brown

3 Responses to “How often must new pilots fly to stay proficient?”

  1. Greg – You are right on. I recently moved from a flight club that was not very social to one that focuses on the social aspect of flying. As a result I am finding more pilots to share experiences and flight time with. It is getting me in the air more often and I am learning from my fellow pilots and vice versa on each flight.

    Sharing the cockpit has made it much easier to ensure I am keeping up my proficiency in the cockpit.

  2. Greg,
    One of the things my flying club tries to do is offer social flyouts monthly during the “flyable” season here in the midwest. We have both dinner flyouts of about an hours flight monthly, plus longer multi-night flyouts of a longer distance, between three and 10 hours each way. The dinner flyouts are perfect excuses for students, either primary or instrument, to get out with an instructor and maybe an SO for a destination to help solidify the “worth” of general aviation as transportation. The longer flyouts, to places like the Bahamas, Yellowstone, or Maine (from our base near Chicago) allow for a vacation or even wrapping up an instrument rating.

    I think that a single pilot should ideally fly at least 75 hours per year, not 6. I’m in a situation where I rarely fly solo, since my wife’s also an instrument rated pilot. So finances curtail that somewhat, and we typically fly about 100 hours per year between us. That really is too little, and I definitely feel the rust, especially in the spring when it may be over two months between flights.

    I find that it is as much plane convenience that dictates the frequency of flights as it is money, though budgetary constraints certainly play a role. We rent from an airport only 15 minutes from home, but 30 – 45 minutes from work. We tend to work until about 7PM, and that’s when the FBO closes. So, if we have a whim to go flying after work we’re SOL. Of course, the “solution” is plane ownership. So most of our flights seem to be either these longer trips with overnights, or brief flights in the pattern with an instructor regaining currency in the airplane. A good thing about our FBO is that they require a 60 day currency in the advanced aircraft (HP or complex), and 90 in the others. That at least gets you up with an instructor if you’ve allowed the rust to accumulate. I went up last weekend with an instructor and, while I could handle the airplane, I realized how behind the situation I was at times, to the point where I decided to break off and leave the airport area to regroup before returning. I’d much rather do that with an instructor watching over me than with friends and colleagues aboard for a 750NM flight.

  3. Greg… Being a fairly new pilot (less than 6 months) I try to fly at least once a week weather permitting. I have to agree that it is better to get 30 minutes in the pattern 3 or 4 times a month than flying one long cross country. My last 3 flights have been .5hr, .7hrs and 1.1hrs, of that the first 2 flights were all spent in the pattern and accounted for 10 trips around the pattern and 10 landings. The last was a day spent doing both air work and pattern work. Practicing stalls, engine out procedures and just having fun.

    One thing that helps is being a part owner of a Remos LSA. Cost is minimal after purchase to fly at about $25/hr(includes maintenance fees). Sharing this expense has greatly reduced my out of pocket money to fly and there is ALWAYS someone at work who wants to go fly.

    Now.. on to get my medical and my PPL.. there is another Cherokee 180 I am looking at..

    Clear Skies and Safe Landings!
    Gene

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