CFI/DPEs Need Proficiency Too!

Most CFIs log thousands of hours as PIC but unfortunately often do not personally fly enough to stay sharp. DPEs are even worse about flying on their own and maintaining their personal proficiency – and by regulation, a DPE does not log their flight time during tests as PIC. The FAA recently discovered that some DPEs were flying for years and not getting any experience as PIC.  This can be a tragic situation since these people are the professionals we trust to be experts in the cockpit. The FAA is now enforcing new guidance requiring a minimum of 60 hours of PIC annually for every DPE to be recertified – but no “commander time” is yet legally required for CFIs!

“Right seat rust” is a common problem in our industry but it is largely not exposed or addressed. Retaining piloting privileges as a CFI or DPE only requires the same flight review every pilot gets, signed off every two years by a CFI. This is despite flying at the edges of the flight envelope with clients and applicants. (a CFI teaching aerobatics also has no extra requirements) And we all know a flight review can be a brief and perfunctory experience. Since DPEs and CFIs are regarded as “industry flight experts” it is easy to believe they are not vulnerable to loss of proficiency through inactivity. The joke in our flight school used to be that every “expert in the right seat” instantly loses 20 IQ points and lots of skill when they grab the yoke – “why did I say “I have the flight controls?” There is no magic assuring flight proficiency for anyone; we all need to get out and stay sharp!

SAFE worked with the Flight Safety Institute and other industry partners to develop the Focused Flight Review and highly recommends this program for pilots at all levels. The training here is fun and exceeds the minimum FAA requirements. Following this guidance enhances and expands every pilot’s skills and knowledge. If you have not reviewed this excellent series of flight profiles, please check it out and use it with your clients http://focusedflightreview.org  We also recommend finding a current and qualified instructor and flying the more challenging maneuvers in our SAFE Extended Flight Envelope syllabus. To be safe in flight we all need to be deeply and recently trained to respond correctly to an upset – instinctively unloading and controlling our aircraft. It is especially important for our “aviation professionals” to be current and sharp. Fly safe out there (and often).

SAFECFI-PRO™ workshop  is open to every aviation educator at every level (even if you are working on your CFI?) June10/11 at Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

Join SAFE to support our safety mission of generating aviation excellence in teaching and flying. Our amazing member benefits pay back your contribution (1/3 off your ForeFlight subscription)! Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).


Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

10 thoughts on “CFI/DPEs Need Proficiency Too!”

  1. You may be confusing a persons ability to fly with their ability to teach. The two skills are substantially different. Some pilots should never become instructor. You may not realize there is a whole industry of instructors that never fly in aircraft, but instead do an admirable and professional job in simulators (all the airlines, major aircraft manufacturers, FSI, CAE). The FAA specifically makes provisions for instructors to NOT have a medical certificate (hence no PIC).

    Piloting is easy. The soft skills such as crew resource management, aeronautical decision making, and truly understanding the logic and reversion are modes of automation continue to be the root causes of most accidents. Learning from experts in these fields with solid teaching skills would go a long way towards reducing our accident rate. No license required.

    Me? I’ve only been flight instructing for 24 years with 15000 hours PIC (600 in the last 12 months equally split between single engine trainers and swept wing jets). There’s a lot to learn out there and I’m willing to seek it from any qualified source.

  2. I appreciate the point made and have flown with pilots and cfi’s that were rusty. Normally cfi’s already have to do more than the biennial flight review. When hired they are evaluated as a cfi. They are also evaluated on an ongoing basis manifested by the performance and passing percentage of their students. As I’m sure David has been involved, 141 schools perform a cfi evaluation annually. Wouldn’t be a bad idea for that to become a norm for all cfi’s.

    1. I don’t mean to throw anyone under the bus but I *do* see some pretty rusty CFIs (this was more evident when I was running a school and flying annual checks with my CFIs). It is easy to think “I flew 600 hours last year” but did you really “FLY?” I recently took a 2200 mile ferry flight in a new LSA and a lot of the reason was to just get back in the “real world” of flying small planes; great therapy for complacency!

      1. That’s confusing. I ran a 141 program for quite a few years and had a very different experience. All active cfi’s were more than acceptable on their annual proficiency checks as they were obviously teaching all of the maneuvers and procedures in the 141 syllabus. The stage checks with the students were another way to evaluate the instructors and the students’ performance proved the instructors were effectively teaching. Frankly I don’t understand how you could have an active 141 flight instructor who is rusty.

      2. Probably all of your CFIs were two years our of certification (or less?) We has many older, part time CFIs (30 years teaching). Great with students but far from original training and not flying enough.

  3. Unfortunately I’ve been witness to seeing several “good old boy” flight instructors who by all means are great people but lack the recent experience in finishing students. Therefore they drag their feet and don’t sign off in a reasonable time frame. Several of these people are Ex airline with way more experience than me as far as hours go.

    Unfortunately the change to the ACS scares many of them and then they drag there feet to send students on checkrides because they realize that their own deficiencies will be found. The end result is students go broke and give up, or overspend. Fortunately working for a 141 helped me to know how to stay on a tight schedule and I have yet to become complacent myself in knowing how to get students done. But unfortunately all of these mentioned guys check most prospective students boxes as being the guys they would want to learn from. (Prior airbus drivers, retired airline). It all sounds so good. But in the end it leads to endless instruction because of the instructors pride and fear.

    Part 61 needs more over sight to protect students if you ask me! I’ve seen instructors who are going for airplane rides charging 100 an hour out here in California not teaching at all. (That’s fine, if the student is fine with it, But that’s not the expectation of the students who I’ve seen this happening to)

  4. Understandable. I was connecting the 600 hours a year figure with the cfi being rusty, so that was the confusion. The majority of our instructors were younger guys like you said not long out of certification but there were plenty of mid-aged and more, one a WWII Navy pilot.

  5. This will help cut down the number of DPEs and make it even harder for anyone to fly.
    Is this really needed? I doubt it.

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