Flight Reviews: is there a better way?

It was that time of year again. Twenty-four months had passed and so on November 1st I ventured out to take the 32nd Flight Review of my flying career. No, I haven’t been a pilot for 64 years but since I hold multiple national licenses I get to show off my piloting skills more often than most.

CFI in training
How good was your last flight review?

This time I flew with an instructor who was new to me. My regular instructor is in the Ukraine, having back surgery (he doesn’t have to pay for it there), so he introduced me to Chuck, an ex-army Vietnam-era helicopter pilot and long-time Air Traffic Controller. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer guy.

Chuck didn’t know anything about me except that I had around 5000 hours of private flying and he had read the article in Air Facts when I flew the Duchess across the Pacific Ocean, so I was interested to see how he would approach the Flight Review.

I have had Flight Reviews with spotty-face teenagers who have wanted me to perform every flight maneuver to PTS standards and who felt that if we didn’t spend three hours on the ground with an exam twice as complicated as the PPL written and another three hours in the air they had not fulfilled their objective. I have terminated a Flight Review with an arrogant instructor who was competing for the position of God Almighty and I have enjoyed several reviews with competent and experienced instructors from whom I have learned a lot.

I sometimes wonder about the value of a 30-year pilot demonstrating his skills to a 200-hour airline wannabe and, hopefully, with due humility, I sometimes feel that there has to be a better way to ensure the competence of our pilot population than a one-size-fits-all mandatory biennial flight review. I know the FAA gives great latitude to the reviewing flight instructor, but it can’t imbue all of them with the judgment that only comes with experience.

I have come up with schemes where I imagine that for the first 100 or 500 hours there is one kind of review and then something else as you gain more experience, or different categories of instructor like we have in New Zealand or something else that will better address the realities but have never really come up with a satisfactory solution.

I know that to an extent you can choose your own instructor to conduct the review so in that way you can select someone who will carry out an appropriate exercise, but that is not always possible. When I lived abroad, I had to fix up the review by phone or email to coincide with my brief visits and had to take whomever I was given. Personally I like being challenged; I am not after an easy ride. I just maybe would like to see a system that recognizes my experience and skills and in some way differentiates me from the newbie.

As for my ride with Chuck, we had a blast. The weather wasn’t good so we discussed the challenges that went with that. We got a pop-up IFR clearance, shot an approach, did some interesting maneuvers, a short field landing and over chicken fried steak at Nancy’s we discussed runway incursions, ATC phraseology, Class B clearances and low level flying in Vietnam. Altogether a satisfying and worthwhile experience. Chuck paid me the ultimate compliment by saying that he considered me to be a “professional” pilot. But when I look back on the Flight Reviews of the past, I have to say that this was probably the exception rather than the rule and can’t help wondering if there isn’t a better way.

What has been your experience with Flight Reviews? Should there be different reviews based on a pilot’s number of hours or years flying? What are the qualities of a good review? An ineffective one? Share your thoughts with us.

21 Comments

  • My first flight review (given, I’ve never taken one), was interesting. It was my first week at my new job of CFI, and I wasn’t too sure how to approach it. My customer was a CFI himself. I did a very thorough review of the 2012 FAR and we flew for the required hour + .2 or so. He later told me it was the most thorough review he’d been on, I think his way of saying I took it a little too seriously- the guy had waaay more hours than me and was very current in his flying, for goodness sake!
    In the end, I don’t think I made it too painful for him. I now approach flight reviews by asking the customer what they’d like to work on, and making sure they are safe and competent pilots.

    • Edward,

      FAA regulations did not require that you give the usual one hour of ground training (including a review the FARs) to the CFI to whom you administered a flight review. See FAR 61.56(f) quoted below in pertinent part which provides that current flight instructors are exempt from the ground training otherwise required in a flight review.

      (f) A person who holds a flight instructor certificate and who has, within the period specified in paragraph (c) of this section, satisfactorily completed a renewal of a flight instructor certificate under the provisions in §61.197 need not accomplish the one hour of ground training specified in paragraph (a) of this section.

  • there is another way. License renewal requiring passing a check ride with a DPE to the standards of the license. This variation of license renewal is’s how it’s done in the rest of the world. Just like renewing a medical.

    the question is–Is it a better way?

  • As a CFI I sometimes have problems with how to conduct a flight review with a pilot I know has flight skills as good or better than mine, especially when he flies as many or more hours a year than I do and often into more challenging airspace. I believe the flight review process is there to catch the pilots who don’t fly much and/or do not keep up with changes in the rules and procedures.

    The last CFI I gave a review to fit the first category to a T. We flew an hour while he demonstrated to me some of the finer points of how to execute a barrel roll and some other aerobatic maneuvers that have given me problems.It filled the requirements for him and certainly was a help to me.

    Vern Fueston

  • As a CFI who recently got back into the instructing game part-time, I’m surprised that more people don’t take advantage of, or even know about, the FAA WINGS program. I’ve done three flight reviews in the last month; one pilot didn’t know about WINGS, one had heard of it but didn’t know any details, the third knew about it but dismissed it as an “FAA goody-two-shoes program”.

    Personally, I think there is a great advantage in the WINGS program in the ability to basically create a personalized recurrency program that suits the type of flying that one does. I have a background in corporate aviation where annual simulator training was the norm; I actually looked forward to it yearly. Not only does WINGS allow a pilot to select flight tasks to complete on their schedule, one can also select relevant knowledge tasks as well (AOPA courses, local seminars, etc.)

    Not only that, you don’t have to wait for the last day of your two-year currency period to scramble for an instructor and schedule what I see as the expected “1 hour + 1 minute of ground, 1 hour + 1 minute of flight” routine. Simply create “your” program on the WINGS website, complete the tasks every few months or a couple times per year with a CFI and you’ll have your flight review constantly renewed as you complete each WINGS phase. Recurrent training is a great benefit, and WINGS does a great job of helping pilots stay sharp and current.

    CJ
    ATP, CFII MEI
    WA

  • My 20,000 hours of safe flight were almostely exclusively earned as an Alaska bush pilot. I have never come across a BFR that even touches on the skills needed for that segmente of our profession. A spot landing to us was a successfu landing on a 500-foot gravel bar, conducted in a tail-dragging C-180 or C-185. Short field takeoffs were conducted on the same restrictive strips, and usually with full loads. With ASEL, ASES. Instrument, and intermediate level aerobatics under my seat belt, I certainly comply with the BFR requirements. but I’ve yet to come across a CFI that could pass a bush pilot’s daily BFR.

    • Mort, great point. It never fails that I learn at least one thing from nearly every pilot I fly with, from student to retired professional/military pilot, nearly every flight. I always try to approach the flight review not from a pilot examiner stand-point, but as a pilot evaluator. I’m not going to have every skill from every niche industry, but I’m certainly going to be open to learning a new one, even on a flight review.

      The way I see it, the CFI’s role during a flight review is to evaluate, not to teach and not to ‘examine’ (it’s not a checkride.) If you were to demonstrate to me what you do on a daily basis in the bush I’m certain you would meet any PTS standard and beyond. Box checked, see you in two years.

      CJ

    • No doubt a bush pilot with 20,000 hours most likely has superior piloting SKILZ However, when you come down to the lower 48, as a CFI, I’m more concerned we review the things the things that could get you in trouble with the FAA like airspace, TFR’s, the FAR’s that apply to the pilot. IE, I want to make sure you keep your license …

      As far as the flying portion goes, I agree w/ CJ…..Take me up and show me a thing or two and tell me some war stories as we get in that required hour …

  • A BFR is only as good as you make it. You must engage a suitable instructor and outline a plan appropriate to your experiences. The results will be a positive training and safety event.

  • “ALL” of the local instructors have been chargimg $150 for a flight review.This is an attempt to gough pilots that have to comply with a worthless government mandated program.This was a needed concept when first presented, but today this has evolved into young pilots taking financial advantage of the pilot community.I hve been flying since 1973 while these local “check pilots” have far less expierence.

  • I have not had a flight review in years. I am a Civil Air Patrol SAR/Disaster Relief pilot who is required by regulation to fly a CAP “Form 5” evaluation (essentially a BFR) every 12 months with a CAP check pilot (everyone of them it seems is a CFI or CFII), to maintain my privilege to fly Civil Air Patrol aircraft. I also subscribe to the FAA Wings program.

    Taking the online Wings courses and my “Form 5” fulfills the BFR requirement. That being said, the pilot “culture” in my squadron is one of safety, professionalism and proficiency above the “standard” and i personally look forward to these reviews. It reaffirms to me, my fellow pilots and aircrew, that I am a safe proficient pilot. Not only that, to me, preparation for this yearly evaluation is another excuse to get in the air and fly…… The thing I Love!!!!

  • I firmly believe that once we have a certain minimum time in type, what kills us is not a lack of skill, but a lack of judgement and discipline.

    A young or low time instructor can discuss the type of flying that the fellow does and question him about his vulnerabilities and how he deals with them.

    The flight can include things not normally encountered in the pilot’s particular activities.

    Personally, I am a strong advocate of briefings for every aspect of flight.

  • I firmly believe that once we have a certain minimum time in type, what kills us is not a lack of skill, but a lack of judgement and discipline.

    A young or low time instructor can discuss the type of flying that the fellow does and question him about his vulnerabilities and how he deals with each.

    The flight can include things not normally encountered in the pilot’s particular activities.

  • Though I’m as a fella I’m a FOG, I’m still and FNG as a pilot. I’d expected to see a standard for the BFR. Maybe some required maneuvers and procedures that everyone has to do. Then, both the pilot and the examiner have to pick a few, say three or four, from a long list of options.

    Any test is supposed to accurately measure knowledge, reliably separating those who know from those who don’t. If it doesn’t do that, then the test fails. A well designed test will accomplish that – plus act as a learning tool. If FAA can’t accomplish that, maybe a couple of pilots and a six pack could?

    From professionals, I expect to see a core standard, with viable options for selection and variability. Anything else would be a bitter disappointment.

  • Is anyone aware of any statistical studies that examined the accident rate before the BFR was required beginning in the 70’s, and the rate afterward? I’ve seen one FAA study in the mid 80’s that looked at skill attenuation over time. No big surprise, if pilots don’t practice their skills (both physical and mental) erode. So, does anyone on this thread know where I might find the analysis and supporting data that shows a once every two year visit to a CFI makes a significant difference in safety?

  • Strong proponent of recurrent training, but the attitude of the pilot and the instructor will determine the worth of the flight review. May be a worthless exercise or a valuable session with thoughtful attention to the vulnerabilities of the pilot.
    Just as some annual inspections are more thorough than others, so it is with flight reviews.
    Agree with the post about the FAA Wings program. Excellent program.

  • In the military we call it a NATOPS check and do it annually. Basic VFR maneuvers, simulated emergencies, and an open and closed book written test. It’s a good incentive to stay in the books, and everyone does this, from the 1stLt to the CO. I don’t think the FAA check should be differentiated by experience but should instead be standardized so that pilots must maintain a minimum level of skill to be safe. If you’re so great that the BFR is too easy, pat yourself on the back, then go hire the CFI for another hour to learn something new.

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