Compiled by AOPA's Pilot Information Center
Currency and proficiency have similar definitions and they do complement each other, but neither one is a replacement for the other. Being current under the Federal Aviation Regulations means that you have met the requirements to act as a pilot in command of an aircraft within a certain time period. Being proficient means, according to Webster's College Dictionary, "fully competent in any art, science, or subject." You can be current without being a proficient pilot, but if you are proficient, most likely you have also met the currency requirements to get to that point.
Learning how to become current is as easy as reading the FARs for the type of flying that you are going to do. To act as pilot in command of an aircraft, you need to have accomplished a flight review or one of the exceptions within the preceding 24 calendar months. To be able to carry passengers, you need at least three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days. For night flights with passengers, the landings need to be full stop at night, not touch and go. When the IFR environment is considered, then at least six approaches need to have been performed and logged within the preceding six calendar months. There might be further requirements and exceptions to each of these situations, and we strongly recommend a thorough reading of the regulations to verify your requirements.
Many of the articles and studies that have been collected on this subject stress that one can meet the above currency requirements without becoming proficient in the operation of an aircraft. Proficiency in an aircraft includes normal operations as well as knowledge of the emergency procedures for the aircraft that you fly, as well as type of flying. Maintaining proficiency in aircraft of different categories and classes can be more of a challenge due to the different skill sets that are required.
The main similarity is practice. To become proficient, you should practice your skills in an aircraft. It is best to do this with an instructor to make sure that you are practicing correctly, but you can also achieve this on your own. There are many ways to become a proficient pilot. One way is to become current and then practice more on your own until you feel you are fully competent in the aircraft. You can solicit assistance from many sources, including a safety pilot, an instructor, a computer software program, and even the FAA.
Practicing performance maneuvers by yourself is not as rewarding as challenging another pilot to a skills contest, with each pilot judging the other on how close to the minimums described in the Practical Test Standards the other can perform. You do not have to test yourself under the watchful eyes of an instructor, but a fellow pilot can still suggest ways to perform a smooth short-field landing that may have been taught to him or her differently. If you want to practice a maneuver that you do not normally perform, such as soft-field landings, or landing on snow, then an hour or two of instruction from a CFI may accomplish much more than a few hours of practicing on your own.
One of the newest areas of training that you can use to your advantage is the use of computer simulator programs. From an inexpensive VFR or IFR sim to the expensive training systems in use by many FBOs and training centers, the programs can provide valuable insight into procedures and checklists. The feel of the "aircraft" may not be what you are used to, but the programs are getting better as the technology improves. Training companies and aircraft manufacturers alike endorse the latest version of Microsoft's Flight Simulator. Offering simulated flight in a variety of aircraft, Microsoft can accommodate a wide range of users with one package.
Of the flying programs that exist for pilots, one of the official FAA recommendations is the FAA's Pilot Proficiency Program. Newly redesigned, this program has been in service since 1977 and is known as the Wings program. Benefits include lower insurance rates and a lower accident rate. A 1985 FAA report showed one accident for every 555 pilots participating in the Wings program, versus one accident for every 247 pilots not participating. More information can be obtained at www.faasafety.gov.
Updated Friday, May 30, 2008, 4:03 PM