Better Flight Reviews; Get Focused!

The blog last week provided methods to instill an urge for excellence in your pilots, creating lifetime learners during initial flight training. This internal motivation is easier with a new pilot-in-training since there is time and opportunity to build a relationship and establish expectations. The toughest place to conduct quality flight training and get beyond the FAA minimum requirements is during a flight review. Any hope of conducting serious training is often trampled under the cultural expectations of FAA minimums and the “lunch date flight review.”

But let’s be clear, the FAA gives the CFI total control to decide the flight review content and required duration; everything is on the table. The FAA required-minimum of an hour flight and an hour of ground study on part 91 is just as suspect as the 3SM day viz; a bare minimum. (And the multi-engine ATP who flies a flight review in a Champ is legal for 24 months in everything else!) Ultimately, we need to appeal to every pilot’s better angels here and inspire a personal desire for greater proficiency and safety we cannot legislate this. Clearly, bending planes and bleeding out really sucks. An hour flight may scrape off some of the serious rust and discover and correct some bad habits, but we can’t assure consistency and actual skill in an hour. And we never get beyond basics to what I call “the killers” (important safety items) in an hour. So let’s default to three hours and work plus or minus from that more realistic baseline.

AC 61.98D: the FAA reminds flight instructors that a flight review may require more than 1 hour of ground training and 1 hour of flight training. Since satisfactory completion of a flight review is based on pilot proficiency, it is up to the instructional service provider to determine what type of instruction is required and how much additional training time, if any, is required to ensure that the pilot has the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct safe flight operations… it is the flight instructor that ultimately determines the total training time required for a flight review.

As this excellent FAA document on flight reviews suggests, controlling the expectations starting with the initial interview. It is critical for the CFI to “sell” the safety advantages of greater proficiency so we can get to the real “pilot killer” phases of flight. The FAA WINGS program was originally developed around this focus on these specific “pilot risk factors.”  And participants in FAA WINGS are statistically correlated with safer flying. But unfortunately in most safety seminars we are “preaching to the choir” how do we reach further?

To this end, SAFE contributed extensively to the development of the Focused Flight Review with AOPA. This excellent toolkit was created to provide the resources for a more extensive (hopefully annual) review and this works hand in glove with FAA WINGS. This program is diverse and focuses attention on the areas of true risk for every pilot (“the killers”). e.g. It is almost incomprehensible that 24% of fatal accidents occur during take-off and initial climb. We are not teaching people to adequately manage risk during this phase of flight (every pilot should be Code Yellow on take-off).

Every flight is different … but GA accidents follow well-worn patterns. Whether heedless, hapless, or simply clueless, pilots keep falling into the same traps that have snared others before them. It happens every year all across the country.

The learner involvement and imaginative scenarios of the Focused Flight Review provide a great advantage for the aviation educator. It is otherwise too easy for all of us to fall back into the “initial training rut” and just review airwork – thereby missing the important “added value” items that should be included in a good flight review. The opportunity of a more extensive – exceed the minimums – review allows a good CFI to go beyond basic proficiency and cover “the killers” that are often never trained. Complacency is a huge contributing factor in aviation accidents; we all mask risk because of familiarity. Try surprising your client by popping open a window during initial take-off (inspire an abort). Way too many pilots regard the take-off as the simplest phase of flight when in reality, it is the most toxic. A good briefing is essential before the power is applied on every take-off. Actively involving your pilot in the challenges and construction a personal flight review also inspires a sense of mastery. Have fun and fly safely.


Join SAFE and get great benefits (1/3 off ForeFlight!) This supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  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.

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