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Does Glider Flight Time Count Toward an ATP Certificate?

Updated: Mar 4

Does glider time count toward ATP and will it be considered by prospective employers?

According to FAR 61.159, the answer is yes. Here’s the relevant verbiage:

(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of this section, a person who is applying for an airline transport pilot certificate with an airplane category and class rating must have at least 1,500 hours of total time as a pilot that includes at least:

(1) 500 hours of cross-country flight time.

(2) 100 hours of night flight time.

(3) 50 hours of flight time in the class of airplane for the rating sought. A maximum of 25 hours of training in a full flight simulator representing the class of airplane for the rating sought may be credited toward the flight time requirement of this paragraph if the training was accomplished as part of an approved training course in parts 121, 135, 141, or 142 of this chapter. A flight training device or aviation training device may not be used to satisfy this requirement.

(4) 75 hours of instrument flight time, in actual or simulated instrument conditions…

Note the words, “pilot” and “airplane.” The text doesn’t require that 1500 hours of total time be in airplanes – it states total time as “pilot.” It is unlikely a glider pilot will have night flight or instrument time in gliders but it is very possible to have cross country flight time. To read all of the relevant regulations, have a current FAR/AIM handy.

About ten years ago, the regulations surrounding pilot experience requirements vis-à-vis flying for an airline, changed significantly. Prior to the so-called 1500-hour rule, many pilots could find themselves flying for a regional airline with just 250 hours total time, commercial and multi-engine certificates, and an instrument rating.

After the 2009 crash of a Colgan Air Q400, the regulations were changed to require airline* pilots to be Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate holders. For an unrestricted ATP, this means 1500 hours total time to get hired – a major increase from holding a commercial certificate with 250 hours.

As with most things, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, military pilots may be eligible for a restricted ATP with just 750 hours; pilots with an eligible bachelor’s degree make the cut at 1000 hours; pilots with an eligible associate’s degree can be eligible at 1250 hours. Of those hours, there are certain instrument, night, and multiengine requirements as well.

For an average civilian pilot trying to get from student pilot to flying job, building time and experience can be a daunting and expensive endeavor. While many can and do become flight instructors to build that flight time, it’s not the only way to reach the goal. Glider flight time does count toward an ATP. This is good news for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the potential for glider time to be cheaper than other forms of flying.

Of course, “cheaper” is relative and entirely dependent on soaring conditions, cost to launch, and other fees. However, if one compares flying a rented Cessna 172 around at $125 per hour vs. flying a glider at an estimated average cost of $65 per hour for launch and rental, the cost savings are clear.

But wait, what about the airlines? Do they prefer or dislike glider time? Here’s an answer right off the website of one of the largest regional airlines in the USA:

“SkyWest recognizes skills common to helicopter and glider flying and will accept helo/gilder time as part of an applicant’s total time as long as they have a minimum of 250 hours of fixed wing.

If your dream is to become an airline pilot but you’re unsure how to reach the time requirements for an ATP, gliding may be a good direction to go!

*The definition of "airline" can vary greatly. For the purposes of this article, we are talking about Part 121 carriers i.e., Delta, United, American, etc.

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