Safety Publications/Articles

The Joy Of Flight Reviews

Helping Pilots To Keep Proficient

I love to do flight reviews. They give me an opportunity to practice my diagnostic skills, just like a doctor who tries to figure out why a patient can't walk straight. I can look for weak areas that have developed during the past two years and try to bring that knowledge or skill level back up to snuff.

The idea is to determine if the pilot meets the minimum knowledge and skill levels of the practical test standard required for the certificate he or she holds. My experience is that about half of those who come to me for flight reviews don't meet that standard - at least not at first. This is not to say that I refuse to endorse half of the pilots who come to me for a flight review. If that word got out, I wouldn't be doing many of these. Most pilots are usually able to meet the standard by the end of the day after some instruction. The more challenging pilots are those who haven't been in the cockpit since their last flight review. This makes for a long day or more.

In the air, the most frequent areas of weakness are steep turns, stall recovery, crosswind landings, correcting for wind drift, and emergency landings. In the one hour of ground training required, I often find a lack of knowledge about airspace, VFR weather minimums, and aircraft systems. Just the other day I flew with a pilot who had forgotten how to track outbound from a VOR and didn't understand the To-From indication. A little instruction fixed this discrepancy.

There is no way for a pilot to flunk a flight review. You simply log the flight time as dual instruction and invite the pilot back for another flight, either with you or with another instructor. Most pilots are not offended if they don't get signed off that day, because they recognize that they need some work on their skills and knowledge. I worry about those pilots who do take offense. Unless there is some intervention, they are probably headed for an accident.

FAR 61.56 requires that a flight review consist of a minimum of one hour of flight and one hour of ground instruction. Ground training should consist of a review of Part 91. The tasks checked in the flight portion of the review are at the discretion of the instructor, as long as the tasks demonstrate "the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate." Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I have been emphasizing temporary flight restrictions and intercept procedures during flight reviews. Runway safety is also high on my agenda. Advisory Circular 61-98, Currency and Additional Qualification Requirements for Certified Pilots, provides guidance for conducting a flight review.

It's also a good idea to find out what kind of flying the pilot does and if there are particular skills that he or she would like to improve. Ask them. Number one on the hit parade of pilot insecurity is crosswind landings.

Giving flight reviews also opens up all sorts of opportunities for future flight instruction. For pilots who are rusty because they were either poorly trained or fly infrequently, a CFI can offer an option of setting up a regular flight proficiency program with the pilot where you fly together once or twice a month. It's ironic that some pilots don't fly much after their checkride because they have a growing concern about their lack of proficiency. The longer they wait, the less proficient they become until they stop flying altogether. What a shame to waste all of that time, effort, and money in getting a private pilot certificate, only to give up flying altogether. If you know someone like this, go after him or her. Get the pilot back up to speed and complete a successful flight review. Then follow up to make sure he or she stays at it.

Another option is to suggest that a pilot meet the flight review requirements by participating in the FAA Wings program. This way, the pilot gets three hours of dual instruction in takeoffs and landings, hood work, and maneuvers. As long as he attends an FAA-sanctioned safety seminar, the program counts as a flight review. While the Wings program is an excellent way to get a flight review, I believe there is a flaw in the seminar requirement. If a pilot attends a seminar on winterizing your aircraft or how to make your engine last to TBO, is he exposed to a review of Part 91? Hardly. So, it's a good idea to cover some of the highlights of Part 91 while you are providing the required three hours of dual instruction to the pilot.

As a CFI you can also get credit toward renewal of your flight instructor certificate by giving Wings training. By giving at least 15 hours of dual for Wings to at least five pilots in the past 24 months, and participating in the Wings program yourself, you may renew your flight instructor certificate at your local FSDO. This renewal provision was not issued by regulation, but rather by a letter to the FSDOs.

After you have given a number of flight reviews, you see why the FAA has this regulatory requirement. Pilots forget some of the things they were taught, don't keep up with changes in the regulations, and let their skills atrophy from infrequent flying. You, as a CFI, are the key to ensuring that the pilots with whom you share the sky are as safe and competent as they can be.

Richard Hiner is vice president of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

By Richard Hiner

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