Flight training industry weighs in on CFI renewals

December 8, 2010

The FAA does not plan to make regulatory changes to the flight instructor refresher clinic (FIRC) or CFI renewal process, the agency confirmed at meeting to solicit recommendations for improving the system Dec. 6 and 7.

In its announcement of the meeting, the FAA had expressed concern over the general aviation safety record and asked for input on whether the regulatory requirements for CFI renewals should be changed, among other questions. During the two-day event, the agency said it was seeking recommendations to improve the process but explained, “We’re not here to change the regulations” regarding CFI renewals.

The FAA had requested information on a number of questions regarding the effectiveness of FIRCs, whether the regulatory requirements for renewals should be changed, and how the flight training community can improve safety. “The FAA has been reviewing indicators that suggest that the processes currently in place may lack sufficient effectiveness in ensuring that CFIs are being provided the best information in the most useful manner,” it noted in the meeting announcement.

The industry got word of the meeting prior to the Federal Register notice, and AOPA held several meetings with representatives of the FAA to try to gain a better understanding of the reason behind the move to review the CFI renewal process. 

“The FAA views the CFI as an important link in delivering a message of safe practices to the individual pilot and ultimately reducing the accident rate overall,” said Kristine Hartzell, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs. “The FAA is attempting to improve the message delivered by CFIs.”

However, the suggestion that there might be substantial changes to the process or regulations had the desired effect of bringing several major FIRC providers together at the Washington, D.C., meeting. The FAA indicated early on that it was exploring the possibility of changes ranging from doing away with the FIRC as a means to renew a CFI certificate to requiring all CFIs to attend a FIRC.

During the meeting, AOPA pointed to the highly successful campaign to improve runway incursion rates in which the industry, working with the FAA’s Office of Runway Safety, achieved their goals without a need for over-reaching regulatory action. The office’s efforts to reduce runway incursions proved that a targeted educational marketing campaign is highly effective in improving safety, Hartzell said. The number of serious runway incursions decreased 50 percent two years in a row without changes to the system or regulations. This Office of Runway Safety campaign should serve as a model for future collaborative efforts to improve GA safety, Hartzell explained.

Representatives from AOPA voiced their support for making improvements in FIRC content, yet expressed that the association would not support unsubstantiated changes to the CFI renewal process as a whole. In the end, industry groups made recommendations for improvements in the core topics taught in FIRCs. AOPA expects to see changes to the core topics laid out in Advisory Circular 61–83F, Nationally Scheduled Federal Aviation Administration Approved Industry-Conducted Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics.

AOPA agrees that CFIs play an important role in aviation safety and that they should be provided the tools and skills necessary to deliver quality instruction to the students and certificated pilots with whom they come into contact. Earlier this year, AOPA commissioned an independent research study to identify strengths and weaknesses in the flight training experience. The research results were shared at the AOPA Flight Training Summit on Nov. 10. Additionally, the Air Safety Institute provides several educational courses to supplement training given by CFIs and is the largest provider of FIRCs offering courses both online and in-person. The institute is dedicated to improving the GA accident rate and is continuously delving into the accident statistics to determine where to focus training efforts. AOPA welcomes the opportunity to assist the FAA in future campaigns to improve the GA accident rate.