Life of a Pilot

A day's work

New pilots have the lowest level of seniority and they may start out “on reserve,” which means they are on call, typically for about 20 days each month. They fill in if a pilot is unable to report for duty, or should new flights be required. Reserve duty requires a pilot to be available and ready to fly on short notice.

A pilot is generally only certified to fly on one aircraft type at a time. That means that flying assignments are aircraft specific – that is, Boeing 777 pilots are only assigned to routes where Boeing 777s are operating.

A day's work may vary from a long-range international flight to a sequence of shorter domestic flights. Pilots who are members of the Air Canada Pilots Association often start their career as a First Officer on domestic aircraft or as a Relief Pilot on long-range, international flights.

Flight time vs. duty time

The time a pilot spends “on the job” does not simply mean the time he or she spends on the flight deck operating an aircraft.

In a month, our member pilots may end up actually flying an aircraft for up to 118 hours. This flight time – when they are actually at the controls – is also known as “stick time.” But actual flight time doesn't come close to representing the actual time a pilot can be on duty.

Pilots are responsible for many time-consuming duties before and after a flight, including weather assessments, filing flight plans, performing pre-flight checks on aircraft and filing post-flight reports, to ensure each flight is operated to the highest level of safety. A duty day – which includes pre- and post-flight activities, in addition to actual flying time – can extend past 14 hours, especially in the case of weather disruptions.

Our pilots also must ensure they are up-to-date on revisions to equipment manuals and operating procedures, which they receive through bulletins. They also participate in rigorous recurrent training and qualification.

For more details on pilot training, click here

Pilot rest is critical

Getting adequate rest is a major focus for all airline pilots.

Pilots operate in a 24-hour, 7 days a week, 365 days per year environment. They often set out to work as most people are heading home for the day or getting ready to sleep.

One of the greatest challenges for our pilots can be adjusting to changing time zones and ensuring adequate rest both before and after a long duty day, especially after flying overseas and/or operating at night.

When arriving at a destination, the crew hotel environment can be a critical element to a pilot getting sufficient rest before he or she reports for the next flight assignment.

Our pilots' families are well aware of how important getting a proper sleep at home can be.

At home

Becoming a pilot involves arduous training, dedication and years of building experience. Once a pilot is working for an airline, their life is sure to include significant time away from family and friends. This includes holidays, which can be some of an airline's busiest times for transporting passengers, which translates into a higher demand for pilots to operate those flights.

Even where they live can be determined by the demands of the job. Before becoming a member of the Air Canada Pilots Association, the average pilot may have moved up to four times to secure a flying job. Pilots may be required to work out of a base assigned by the airline. Pilot assignments are usually determined according to seniority.

For ACPA members, that could mean a move for themselves – or their families – to one of four bases of operations – Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg or Vancouver.

Some pilots may choose not to uproot their families in this way, and they may live in other cities and commute to work.