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Year-round proficiency

Year-round training has been a topic of discussion for years, but now flight schools are doing something about it.

In May, a program founded by Chuck Gensler and others at Independence Aviation at Centennial Airport (APA), Denver, Colorado, will offer Cirrus pilots continuous monthly training that satisfies flight review and instrument proficiency requirements. It features real-world flights and flight training every 60 days and costs $6,000 per year.

Called the IA Complete Proficiency Approach, it includes similar features found in the once-a-year proficiency training program offered at various locations by the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association. Gensler is a factory-approved instructor and also teaches at the COPA course.

“The idea came from when I retired from the Air Force in 2000 and I saw the quality of the training in general aviation and looked at the accident rate. I discovered in fact that the majority of the accidents were from pilots not maintaining proficiency or not maintaining the knowledge level they needed to fly safely,” Gensler said. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command and taught Air Force instructors.

Most training is haphazard, with the individual deciding when to take recurrent training, he said. Insurance companies require recurrent training for highly sophisticated aircraft, but those courses are once a year. “The good news about those programs is the pilots are flying on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to stay proficient. With our [general aviation] pilots, they may not fly that frequently.”

Gensler, talking with his friend Ken Wittekiend near Austin, Texas, who has 10 students enrolled in year-round training at Promark Aviation at Burnet, Texas, decided to break training into bite-sized chunks that are spread over a year. Gensler also talked with Independence Aviation President Robert Stedman before creating the program.

The customer pays $6,000 up front. There will be five to 10 clients the first year, intentionally keeping it small to ensure the program will run smoothly. For that, the customer gets 20 hours of flight instructor time, seminars on timely topics such as maintenance, and use of the school’s Frasca and FlyThisSim TouchTrainer simulators. Several fly-out events to other cities will provide real-world training. Resources include courses from the AOPA Air Safety Institute. The course will also use Cirrus training materials. Online interactive training from Cirrus is part of the program. There is even training for spouses.

“My goal as one of the founding fathers would be for this to become a nationwide model for people to use,” Gensler said. “This would work for any aircraft. My bigger goal in my mind is how can we help general aviation pilots get to that next level that they should be at before they go fly their airplane?” The program will require only two to three hours per month. Gensler thinks stretching out proficiency training is better than a one-time-per-year burst of information.

“Having been in the training business for almost 40 years, I’ve realized the best way we can learn is not by the fire-hose method. That’s another reason I decided to spread that fire-hose effect out over a year’s time,” Gensler said.

At least a half-dozen pilots have indicated they are interested. One pilot even presented the school with an idea of what the program should include.

Ethan Martin, a consultant and flight instructor for Independence Aviation who helped determine the final pricing, said proficiency is difficult to maintain for the high-end client. “The clientele are entrepreneurs and executives who love the Cirrus, but it’s a lot of airplane to stay proficient in if you’re not flying all the time, and yet they are super, super busy. It’s tough for customers to figure out their own training. They don’t have time to read an FAA advisory circular. They don’t have time to look at six different programs and figure out which elements are the best parts for them.

“What we’ve done is create a turnkey, almost concierge program that takes the best of all these programs including the ones we’ve developed in-house and, over the year, integrates it. So it’s this continuous approach to training. Every year you’re getting your [flight review], [instrument proficiency check], all the training Cirrus recommends—so much more and having a great time doing that,” Martin said.

Alton Marsh

Alton K. Marsh

Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.

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