Flying is often a passion that goes beyond a job. Here’s a look at flying outside of commercial flying.

A Cessna 172N Skyhawk flying during sunset.
Photo: InsectWorld/Shutterstock

One of the many wonderful things about the commercial flying profession is that, with a rare exception, pilots love to fly: their journey to the flight deck of an airliner sprang forth from passion, not economics. This journey began in little airplanes – Cessnas, Pipers, and the like – in a realm of aviation referred to as general aviation. General aviation is a refuge from the strict structure of commercial flying, whether that’s for an airliner, charter, or cargo. Though grateful for their jobs and career progression, many pilots long for the days of flying a Cessna out of a small, non-control-towered airport or grass strip, perhaps making a short cross-country for an airport fly-in or pancake breakfast.

So, can commercial pilots fly privately on their days off?

Multiple general aviation aircraft parked outside tents in a field.

Photo: Thierry Weber / Shutterstock

Yes, and many do. This is especially true if a pilot owns a small airplane or builds so-called kit airplanes like the Vans RV series or Lancair. While working as a flight instructor at a small airport, and alongside the private pilots that worked in other careers, the airport hangers were full of retired and active airline pilots, too. Some were actively building their own planes.

A few limitations could apply, though.

Flight duty and rest requirements

Under Part 117, the part of the federal law that covers flight duty limitations and rest requirements for airline pilots, pilots are limited to 100 hours per month and 1,000 hours per year, in addition to daily restrictions. These limitations apply to commercial flying – being paid to fly – so if a pilot were flying privately and not for compensation, these rules would not apply. But the moment a pilot accepts compensation for flying, these rules would apply and could impact the pilot’s flying for his primary employer, the airline.

Maintaining currency

For airline pilots, a pilot’s currency – maintaining his or her flying privileges – is handled by the airline through a program called Advanced Qualification Program, an airline-specific, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved program for pilot training and maintaining qualification. A pilot must have recurrent ground and flight training managed by the airline and have 3 takeoffs and landings every 90 days, which can also be done in an FAA-approved full-motion simulator.

Seaplane take-off from Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Anchorage, Alaska

Photo: Justin Beyerlin via Shutterstock

But that will only make the pilot current for his or her Airline Transport Pilot certification for the multi-engine aircraft in which the pilot holds a type rating. This currency will not make the pilot current to fly a general aviation aircraft. For this, the pilot must have three takeoffs and landings in a single-engine airplane in the last 90 days to carry passengers and must have a flight review conducted by a certificated flight instructor every two years.

The efforts made to stay qualified at the airline do not translate to general aviation flying, so the pilot takes extra time and due diligence to remain eligible for outside flying.

Interested in other key aviation topics? Check out Simple Flying’s Guides.

Aviation lifestyle

Commercial pilots work odd hours, often long days, and are typically away from home for several days at a time. Time to rest and focus on other interests is essential. Nevertheless, aviation is a passion and lifestyle for most professional pilots, and if given the opportunity, pilots love to fly, and the fly-in pancake breakfast at the nearby county airport might be just the way to stay connected to general aviation – where the passion began.


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