November 1, 2000
By Julie Summers Walker
When's the last time your driver's ed instructor drove with you? Those critical of general aviation safety might want to consider the FAA regulation that requires pilots to undergo a review of their flying skills every 24 months — by another experienced pilot, a certificated flight instructor (CFI).
Most pilots know it as a BFR — biennial flight review — though its official title is simply the flight review. This evaluation of a pilot by a peer is a case of pilot helping pilot. It's a stringent requirement for remaining current, but not an obstacle set every 24 months to trip up good pilots, because the reviewer's goal is to help a fellow pilot, not interfere with his or her flying time.
"BFR is an old term, not used in the regulation," said AOPA Aviation Technical Specialist and CFI Kurt Schumacher. "It used to imply that the review had to be made on or before the exact date of either the issuance of a certificate or a prior review. There is now a grace period that allows the review to be made anytime in the calendar month of the last review." If your flight review endorsement is dated June 15, 1999, for example, you have a full 24 calendar months, or until June 30, 2001, to receive your next flight review.
After the stern admonition that you must have a flight review every 24 months, the regulation is less strict. The flight review becomes an agreement between pilots. The applicant is required to undergo an hour of ground instruction (including a review of FAR Part 91) and an hour of flight time with a CFI, but the two can determine what is most appropriate for the individual pilot's needs.
"I look at their logbook to determine what type of flying they usually do," said Tim Lower, AOPA aviation technical specialist and an active CFI. "I do have them fly under the hood, and I have a written test that I prepared. We go over the test together, and I ask them if there is any area they have a weakness in or would like to review in more detail. It just depends on their needs. No two flight reviews are the same."
According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, each review should be individually tailored to ensure that, at the reasonable discretion of the flight instructor, the pilot is able to fly the aircraft safely. Rather than using standard guidelines or a list of maneuvers, flight instructors are encouraged to determine the operational needs of each pilot and then formulate a meaningful review suited to those needs. The requirements for the flight review are cited in FAR 61.56.
You can't fail your flight review, although the CFI may recommend that you practice some aspects of your flying and meet with him again before he'll sign you off. That's a caution any good pilot will appreciate. (You can also go to a different flight instructor for another flight review.)
There are alternatives to the flight review and these include:
The purpose of the flight review is to ensure that you continue to update and expand your skills as a pilot. It's an important part of your flying life and, with the right CFI, an opportunity to expand your knowledge. Don't be afraid of the review, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
As an AOPA member, you have access to the best resource anywhere for information and answers for pilots. AOPA Online (www.aopa.org) provides members with access to a wealth of information and resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The AOPA toll-free Pilot Information Center connects you to specialists in every area of aviation. The center, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), is available to members from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
This topic sheet from AOPA's Aviation Services department addresses the requirements and expectations for the flight review. www.aopa.org/members/files/topics/fltrvw.html
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Pilot's Guide to the Flight Review Safety Advisor gives an overview of the flight review. www.aopa.org/asf/publications/sa03.pdf
Information on the FAA's Pilot Proficiency Award Program, commonly known as the "Wings" program, and how it can assist you with the flight review process. www.aopa.org/members/files/topics/wings.html
The home page for the FAA Wings Program, with information on how to register. www.faasafety.gov/about/wings.aspx
A review of the Seawings program, the Seaplane Pilots Association's version of the FAA Wings program. www.seaplanes.org/training/seawings2.htm
From AOPA Flight Training magazine, a legal briefing on the flight review, by Kathy Yodice. www.aopa.org/members/ftmag/article.cfm?article=3463
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
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