Better Flight Reviews; Get Focused!

The blog last week provided methods to build the urge for excellence in your pilot by 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 suspect as the 3SM day viz; a bare minimum. (and a multi-engine ATP who flies a flight review in a Champ is legal in everything!) We need to appeal to every pilot’s better angels here and inspire a desire for greater proficiency and safety. 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 starts 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 on take-off and initial climb, we are not teaching people to adequately manage risk in 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 variety and imagination of the Focused Flight Review provide a great advantage for the aviation educator. It is too easy for all of us to fall back into the “initial training rut” and 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 review “the killers” that often are missed during initial training. Complacency is a huge factor in the accidents we see in the statistics; 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).

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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