I’ve been out of the cockpit for 2-3 years…what now?

As ATP training providers, one of the questions we field on a regular basis is, “I haven’t flown in 2-3 years; am I competitive for the airlines?”

As with everything in the transition process, there are different paths you can take…which means you will find a lot of advice and a lot of “I know a guy who…” input. Below, we have laid out the facts which will hopefully help in formulating your plan as you decide which path to take. If you would like our advice on your situation, give us a call!

First of all, keep in mind that the FAA ATP minimum requirements are different than each airline’s minimum hiring requirements, and frequently, the minimum hiring requirements for the airlines are different than the experience that makes you competitive to be hired by that airline. Read on for an explanation of each.

1. FAA ATP Mins

So let’s start with the FAA ATP minimums – these are black and white. Eligibility can be found at §61.153, and flight requirements can be found in §61.159 (§61.160 for a restricted ATP). You must meet the minimums before taking your ATP check ride. If you don’t have a hard copy FAR/AIM at home, you can reference ecfr.gov (Title 14, Part 61). The hours requirements are listed below in checklist format.

___1500 hours total time (not more than 100 hours obtained in an FAA-approved simulator in FAA-approved course; most military sims do not qualify)*

___500 hours cross-country (military flight more than 50 miles, do not need to land)*

___75 hours actual or simulated instrument time (not more than 25 hours obtained in simulator)

___100 hours night total (if less, reference §61.159(b): “…a person who has performed 20 night take-offs and landings to a full stop may substitute each additional night take-off and landing to a full stop for 1 hour of night flight time, not more than 25 hours”; so you can have 75 hours of night with 45 full stop night landings and still meet the min)

___50 hours multiengine airplane (not more than 25 simulator hours)

___250 hours PIC (or supervised SIC) in airplanes (Harrier/Osprey/F-35B are considered powered lift) including

     ___100 hours PIC cross-country

     ___25 hours PIC at night

*For restricted ATP, military pilots need 750 total hours and 200 cross country hours.

Notes for ATP mins:

Per §61.153(d)(2), you do not have to hold an FAA certificate to qualify; as a military pilot, you can apply under §61.73. Recommend talking to your training provider and/or the FAA examiner ahead of time to be sure they are familiar with the process.

When calculating your flight times: do not apply an hours conversion, don’t include simulator time, don’t count other time.

Use the FAA’s definition of PIC (see §1.1 and §61.65).

2. Airline Requirements

Airlines create and publish their own requirements, so each airline is slightly different. Flight time requirements are listed below; the links provide additional requirements for education, medical, etc.



  • Pilot Certificate: Commercial, Instrument Airplane (and ATP written complete) *Note – this is the only major which does not require you to have an ATP in hand before applying.
  • Flight Time: Meet ATP mins; 1000 hours fixed-wing turboprop/turbofan (90% of powered lift time counts toward this requirement)
  • Recency: Consideration given to quality, quantity, recency, type, complexity, PIC time. *Not an official min: Delta is looking for approximately 100 hours turbine in the past year. If you’ve been non-current/out of the cockpit for a few years, Delta is looking for a few hundred hours of recency; this is a recent change.



  • Pilot Certificate: ATP Multiengine (unrestricted)
  • Flight Time: 1000 hours of fixed-wing turbine
  • Recency: None specified *Not an official min: United is looking for approximately 100 hours commercial in the past year. Commercial includes military time and civilian instructor time; this is the only major airline that counts GA toward recency.



  • Pilot Certificate: ATP Multiengine (unrestricted)
  • Flight Time: 2500 hours total or 1500 hours turbine total; 1000 hours turbine PIC preferred (Captain/Aircraft Commander/Evaluator/Instructor); fixed-wing only; military pilots may convert flight time by adding .3 hours per sortie
  • Recency: Actively flying two of the last five years *At TPNx 2018, the Southwest hiring representative said that if you are not current, you can regain your recency or get a type rating (they want to see that you are trainable). 



  • Pilot Certificate: ATP Multiengine 
  • Flight Time: 1500 hours fixed-wing PIC (Captain/Aircraft Commander) or SIC in multiengine turbo-prop or jet (GTOW 12,500); 1000 hours fixed-wing PIC in multiengine turbo-prop or jet (GTOW 12,500) preferred; fixed-wing only
  • Recency: None specified



  • Pilot Certificate: ATP Multiengine (unrestricted)
  • Flight Time: None specified
  • Recency: None specified *Not an official min: American prefers 300 hours in the past 12 months.



  • Pilot Certificate: ATP Multiengine (unrestricted)
  • Flight Time: 1500 hours fixed-wing; 1000 hours PIC fixed-wing jet and/or fixed-wing multiengine turboprop (per 14 CFR 1.1); military candidates may add a plus (.3) per sortie factor to flight time
  • Recency: Recent and type of experience will be considered; for example, preference given to candidates with demonstrated flight experience in transport category aircraft within the last 12 months from date of application.
3. Hireability at a Major Airline

This changes regularly – build a network and stay updated on the latest trends. The Pilot Network is a great resource for transitioning military pilots. Also consider job fairs, online airline Q&A sessions, Aero Crew News (https://www.aerocrewnews.com/category/issues/2018/).

Notes for networking:

Aero Crew Solutions offers virtual job fairs (https://aerocrewsolutions.vfairs.com).

Delta hiring has a Facebook page for answering questions (https://www.facebook.com/deltapilotrecruiting/).


So…I don’t meet the recency requirements – now what?

If you do not meet the recency requirements of your preferred airline, we recommend building recency via the regionals – in general, it’s the fastest route to regain your recency and most majors prefer 121 time to 135 time (this is a generalization – your situation might be an exception based on location, job opportunity, etc.). If you apply for the regionals, you can expect to receive an interview offer pretty immediately (most pilots report getting same-day interview offers, regardless of lack of recency). It shouldn’t take long to regain your recency to be competitive for a major airline.

If you are interested in United, you can build your recency by instructing in general aviation. If you know you won’t be current when you leave the military, plan ahead – start instructing at a local flight school and build your time before separating to skip flying at a regional.

Notes for non-current pilots:

Even though you are not competitive yet, submit your apps with the majors and keep them current! (Exception: Delta – if you submit your app and they pull it before you’re competitive, you will be locked out from another app review for a year!)

If you’re interested in flying for Delta, completing their ATP-CTP has benefits, even if you wind up going to a regional to build recency.

Many regionals only require 25 hours of multi time. Most will hire you with only restricted ATP mins.

Most regionals now offer the CTP and ATP as part of training; pay attention to commitments or payback required if you leave within a few months.