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Air Safety Institute Hangar Talk

The flight review exposed

What's the best way to administer the FAA-required flight review, still referred to by many as the biennial flight review (BFR)?

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's virtual instructor lounge buzzed with fresh thoughts from CFIs, including many original ideas for the hour of ground and hour of flight required by FAR 61.57. As usual, CFIs in the lounge had no trouble expressing themselves. What was most unusual was the consensus on one key point: tailoring the lesson plan.

That's right, 100 percent of you agreed that the flight review should be tailored to the individual pilot. It's the first time ever that the entire CFI lounge was in agreement. (What? CFIs in agreement? Some might call that a minor miracle.) Mark Emmert of Arlington, Tennessee, summed up the sentiment best: "The flight review is the golden opportunity to strengthen a pilot's knowledge base, and skills, while observing his/her flying. To be effective, it must be constructed for the pilot under review."

While all agreed that the flight review needs to be customized, how to do that was the heart of the discussion. Most agreed that the first step is learning more about the pilot. Clifford W. Chaney, from St. George, Utah, said, "I have to know something about them, like where, when, and who gave them their flight instruction. For example, someone learning to fly at Torrance, California (a busy airport) may have different skills than someone who received their [initial] instruction at Kanab, Utah (a smaller airport). Taking that into consideration, what type of flying are they doing now?" Frank F. Sherman of Lincoln, Rhode Island, agrees: "A review of the pilot's logbook can give an instructor a fair idea how the individual uses his/her pilot privileges, and a few questions will fill in any blanks."

Jim McNeill of Carson City, Nevada, takes this first step further by using the required regulations review to gain knowledge about the pilot's background. During the Part 91 review, "I... [can] evaluate the extent of the pilot's knowledge and identify the type of flying that he/she routinely does. Based on that knowledge, I put together a plan...that emphasizes the things he/she doesn't normally do." In planning for the review, Gregory G. Gorak of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suggests faxing or e-mailing a proposed agenda to the pilot. "[That way] the candidate knows what to expect and can prepare for a successful review."

John R. Nawrocki of Ocala, Florida, enhances the flight review by discussing the aircraft that the pilot normally flies. "With flight reviews that are planned in advance, I will ask what kind of aircraft they fly and try to get some accident data on that specific aircraft, usually from the NTSB, and review it with them." Full safety reviews of many popular aircraft, which include not only an in-depth analysis of accident history but also a suggested syllabus for checkouts or recurrency training, are available online from ASF.

When tailoring the flight portion of the review, Don Collins of Stoneville, North Carolina, sticks to what matters for the individual. "If I am working with a pilot who flies a complex aircraft, mostly on cross-country flights using the IFR system, I tailor the flight review to meet the mission." He continues, "The flight portion of the review will consist of work done primarily under the hood or in actual IMC -- approaches, holds, tracking, navigation, unusual attitudes, emergencies. I also find it important to be sure that the pilot is familiar with the systems of his aircraft -- GPS, autopilot, electrical, etc. With the consent of both the pilot and the instructor, an IPC can be accomplished on the same flight."

Mark Emmert took a slightly different view. "I'll tailor the flight review to cover those skills and knowledge areas they don't currently spend much time in." For example, "I recently gave a flight review to a pilot who does a lot of cross-country IFR flying. I spent a fair amount of time talking airspace...specifically VFR rules. He hadn't really thought over the cloud clearance requirements that he made suddenly applicable with the words 'cancel IFR.' The flight portion covered things like slow flight, stalls, short-field techniques, and handling a type of approach that he hadn't conducted in a long time."

This month's hot topic

The next topic for discussion is weather. Specifically, what is the best way to teach it? Do you take your students up and actually show them a thunderstorm? Have you ever flown in moderate turbulence with a student? Are today's new pilots prepared for any kind of weather? Give us your best thoughts on the weather. Please keep your comments short and to the point, and include your name and the city and state where you instruct. E-mail your opinions or send them to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, "ASF Hangar Talk," 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701. Remember, there are more than 80,000 CFIs in this lounge. Make your insights stand out.

Hank Cavaretta of Rye, New Hampshire, blends the two views. "Often I integrate VFR air work with instrument procedures to keep the checkride from becoming boring or routine. We may fly to a 2,500-foot strip for some short-field work and then directly to an airport in Class C for the ILS and tower ops." He also commented, "I feel that every pilot needs to be exposed to the basic air work maneuvers at least once every two years to keep proficient in such matters as stall/spin awareness and the ever-changing airspace regulations from the aftermath of 9/11." Pilots preparing for a flight review might enjoy taking ASF's free Know Before You Go online interactive program, which includes up-to-date information on post-September 11, 2001, regulations and procedures.

While all instructors had views on what is covered in the flight review, some discussed the standards upheld while evaluating a pilot. Robert Benda from Centennial, Colorado, says, " the review commensurate with their experience level. For example, a private pilot will be held to private standards, a commercial pilot to commercial standards, and so on. All of this is conveyed to the applicant before even starting so that there are no questions on what he/she has to review and what is expected from me as his instructor." Jim Wilterdink of San Diego, California, conducts the flight review as an evaluation. He says, "I will advise him/her that the flight review is a test, and I will make them deal with weather and perhaps other problems."

All CFIs in the ASF instructor lounge acknowledged the importance of the flight review. It is the one time in which we, as flight instructors, have a chance to help pilots improve skills and knowledge. Jane Carpenter, from Fort Collins, Colorado, summarized it best: "It may be tempting to 'paper-whip' a flight review for a friend, but it won't do either of you a favor. Even a pilot who flies regularly can benefit from sincere instruction. Cheat it to the bare minimums and at worst, the CFI may be held liable for any incident or accident."

David Wright is director of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. A former pilot for US Airways Express, he is a CFII and MEI with more than 2,000 hours.

By David Wright

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