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CFI to CFI

Chocolate or strawberry?

CFI renewal in person or online

Mature flight instructors, many of whom have been attending traditional in-person AOPA Air Safety Foundation Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics for years, have recently noticed a change in those seminars.

"There's not near as many people here as there used to be," is a common observation. "Where are all my instructor friends?" And it's true. Attendance at the in-person FIRCs has been declining. At the same time, the number of instructors using the ASF-Jeppesen online FIRC to renew their FAA teaching certificate has climbed in rough proportion to the decline in attendance at in-person seminars. Although that pretty well answers the "where did they go?" question, it doesn't provide much comfort to those instructors who value the camaraderie and interaction of the in-person ASF FIRCs.

On the other hand, it's obvious that an increasing number of CFIs prefer another flavor of learning for renewal of their FAA teaching certificate: the ASF-Jeppesen online FIRC for renewal. So which do you prefer, chocolate or strawberry?

In-person (chocolate)

One of the most frequent comments heard from participants at the in-person ASF FIRCs is a plea to keep the in-person FIRCs alive. On the session evaluation forms, it's often written in bold letters and is usually along the lines of "I tried the online renewal but it doesn't have the interaction with other instructors and the experts from ASF. Please keep the live seminars going!"

If you're an "interaction" kind of CFI, you'll be happy to know that ASF is doing everything possible to keep in-person FIRCs alive. But from a realistic viewpoint, as the number of CFIs preferring in-person FIRCs declines, adjustments had to be made.

Two recent changes are noticeable. The number of ASF seminar leaders at each in-person FIRC--in prior years, almost always two plus a guest speaker from the FAA or industry--is often now one, plus the guest speakers. When preregistration allows, two are still assigned. (All commercial FIRC providers have long relied on just one seminar leader, regardless of class size.)

In addition, ASF is gradually decreasing the number of in-person seminar locations to control expenses, while trying to schedule seminars in larger cities to benefit the maximum number of instructors. While this change can move the locale for a CFI's regular 24-month renewal cycle, there's a provision in the FAA's rules that allows instructors a four-month window for renewal, while still keeping the same expiration date.

Many CFIs aren't aware of this provision, provided by FAR 61.197, which allows them to renew well in advance of their month of expiration. It means that a CFI whose certificate expires on September 30, for example, can complete an in-person ASF FIRC as early as June 1 and still keep his or her original September 30 instructor certificate renewal date.

The ability to interact with your peers is significant to in-person FIRC participants. Why? Here are some comments overheard during a break at a recent clinic.

"For the first time I'm really beginning to understand how to use GPS beyond 'direct to,' and now have an idea of how to teach it," said a relatively new instructor who was taking his second ASF in-person FIRC. "The new videos and the computer graphics add a lot."

"You can't get this kind of interaction sitting in front of a computer screen by yourself," said another, sitting with a group of CFIs who were waving their arms demonstrating lazy eights. "You learn a lot from each other and meeting like this is a great way to do that."

"Challenging the instructor in class is always fun," said a third. "It's hard to pin down a faceless computer screen and get an answer to a question that goes beyond what the program is designed to teach."

"By attending an in-person ASF FIRC, I can finish it in a weekend," said a CFI who appeared to be a successful businessman. "And the resource materials I get--a thick FAR/AIM book, ASF's Checkride Guide, and that ASF Resources CD-ROM--benefit my students all that much more."

"So it's really good news," CFIs who understand the situation say. "ASF isn't planning to eliminate the live sessions, and having the ASF-Jeppesen online FIRC renewal is an option for instructors who want it." A complete schedule of in-person ASF FIRCs is available at AOPA Online.

Online (strawberry)

ASF has been the big dog in the flight instructor renewal yard for nearly 30 years, ever since the FAA stopped conducting the sessions in the early 1970s. In 2001, as the Internet became widespread as an information source, ASF partnered with Jeppesen to develop the online FIRC program for instructors who preferred that method. Since then, it has grown to become one of the most popular CFI renewal courses available.

The well-constructed course includes succinct explanations of complex flight instruction issues and uses graphics, animation, and some video clips to keep interest high. The length of the online course--16 hours--is the same as the in-person ASF FIRC, but can be completed at the participant's leisure, at home, in the office, or on the road using printouts. Full information is available at AOPA Online.

Participants favoring the online version most often cite cost and convenience as the main reasons for electronic renewal. Surveys conducted by ASF include comments like these:

"You give up the give-and-take of live seminars, but it's more convenient," said one. "I can take an hour lesson at a time in the evenings and still have time for my family, or just take a weekend and finish it."

"The cost," said another. "It's the cost. I'd easily drop $500 renewing with the ASF in-person FIRCs, when you consider the seminar tuition, the cost of travel, hotel, meals, all of that. With the ASF-Jeppesen online FIRC, it's tuition only and there's no hidden processing fees for paperwork."

"Standardized content," said a third instructor. "In live seminars, the emphasis is sometimes determined by the particular expertise or interest of the instructor, and in some ways that's a good thing. But with the online course, it's delivered in absolutely standard fashion. "

"Reference library," said another. "In the in-person FIRCs, you get the ASF FAR/AIM, and the CD-ROM with all the safety resources ASF offers that I can use with my students. But in the online FIRC, there's a wealth of material I can just print out for future reference."

So it's your choice: chocolate or strawberry. Just like our students, we learn in different ways and have varying preferences. Many CFIs like to alternate renewal strategies but look for the consistent ASF quality, whether it's online or in-person.

Got a question about renewal? Look at the ASF Web site for a side-by-side comparison of your options for CFI renewal. Or call ASF at 800/638-3101.

Arlynn McMahon is chief flight instructor at Aero-Tech Inc. in Lexington, Kentucky.

--By Arlynn McMahon

Yes, you can keep your original expiration date

FAR 61.197, Renewal of flight instructor certificates, states:

(a) A person who holds a flight instructor certificate that has not expired may renew that certificate by--
(iii) A graduation certificate showing that, within the preceding 3 calendar months, the person has successfully completed [a FIRC, and...]
(b) The expiration month of a renewed flight instructor certificate shall be 24 calendar months from--
(2) The month of expiration of the current flight instructor certificate provided... (ii) the [FIRC is] completed within the 3 calendar months preceding the expiration month of the current flight instructor certificate.

In other words, an instructor may keep his or her original renewal date if the FIRC is completed up to four months before his certificate expiration date. Since all CFI certificates expire at the end of the month, and the regulation specifies "3 calendar months preceding the expiration month," that effectively means up to four months of grace for keeping the same CFI certificate expiration date.

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