The Flight Review

A pilot recently approached me to ask "if he could get a quick BFR" because his had expired and he wanted to go soaring. I'm sure that anyone who has been an instructor for more than a few months has had a similar experience. What I found most interesting about the request was the misconception some pilots have about the flight review. Unfortunately, many pilots approach the flight review strictly in terms of a checkride that must be accomplished every two years to satisfy the Federal Aviation Regulations. As flight instructors, we have a unique opportunity to directly influence the safety of our sport. If the flight reviews we administer to the pilot community serve to perpetuate a reputation as a "necessary evil" then we are not living up to our responsibility to promote soaring safety and recurrent proficiency training.

It is important to consider that the flight review (the term "biennial" has been dropped from the regulations) is the only regular proficiency training experienced by many pilots. Consequently, the review should not be viewed as a checkride, rather an opportunity to assess a pilot's knowledge of and ability to perform safe flight operations, and to provide recurrent to correct those areas in which a deficiency is identified. It is interesting to not that soon after the creation of the flight review requirement in 1974, the incidence of fatal general aviation accidents decreased by 10% nationwide. Additionally, a recent study by the Federal Aviation Administration and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University indicates that a pilot's overall flight performance decreases significantly within two years following the completion of structured training.

Originally, flight instructors were allowed considerable discretion in every aspect of conducting a flight review. The regulations now specify that the flight review consists of a minimum of one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight instruction. Glider pilots may substitute a minimum of three instructional flights, each of which includes a 360 degree turn (a low altitude release on takeoff meets the requirement for one of these flights), in lieu of the one hour instruction requirement. The ground instruction must include a review of the current general operating and flight rules of FAR Part 91. The flight portion must include a review of those maneuvers and procedures that are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of his or her pilot certificate. Remember that these are the minimum requirements. Our responsibility as flight instructors is to train to the highest level of proficiency.

Since the instructor still has considerable latitude in selecting specific maneuvers and procedures to be reviewed, and because the requirements for individual pilots will be different, it is important for the instructor to adequately prepare for the review. To make the most of the flight review, the instructor should begin with an interview of the pilot to determine the nature of his or her flying and operating requirements. For example, a pilot who has not flown in several years or flies sporadically between flight reviews may require an extensive review of basic maneuvers and procedures from the Practical Test Standard appropriate to that pilot's certificate level. This pilot would also require a more extensive review of FAR Part 91, including recent changes in airspace and other requirements. The instructor should also determine the nature of the pilot's normal flight operations. Does the pilot fly cross-country extensively or limit soaring flight to close proximity of the airport? Other considerations include the frequency with which the pilot flies and the type of aircraft generally flown.

Once the interview is complete, the instructor should develop an outline of the required training items and then reach an understanding with the pilot as to how the review will be conducted. This outline should include the regulatory subjects to be covered as well as the sequence of inflight maneuvers and procedures. In some cases it may be appropriate to provide the pilot with specific publications for study prior to the actual flight review. The criteria to be used in determining satisfactory completion of the review should also be discussed at this time. After reaching an agreement on how the review will be conducted, the CFI should develop a lesson plan for completing the review. This plan can be use as an aid during the post-flight briefing as well as serving as a permanent record of the scope and content of the flight review. The CFI should tailor the review of FAR Part 91, Operating and Flight Rules, to the needs of the pilot. The objective is to ensure that the pilot can comply with all regulatory requirements and operate safely in the National Airspace System. The maneuvers and procedures to be covered during the review include those that, in the opinion of the CFI, are necessary for the pilot to perform in order to demonstrate proficiency in exercising the privileges of his or her pilot certificate. A good place to start would be those areas that include The Most Frequent Cause Factors of General Aviation Accidents. Additional consideration should be given to practical test special emphasis areas; stall / spin awareness, spatial disorientation, low level windshear, collision avoidance, and checklist usage. The inflight review need not be limited to evaluation only. The instructor may wish to provide instruction in specific areas or, based on mutual agreement with the pilot, schedule this instruction for a later flight.

Most important, regardless of whether or not the review is satisfactory; the instructor should provide the pilot with a comprehensive review of his or her performance. This review should include an evaluation of knowledge areas and flight proficiency as well as suggestions for improving any below standard areas. If, in the opinion of the instructor, the pilot has successfully completed the review, the person conducting the review must endorse the pilot's logbook or other permanent record. In the event of unsatisfactory completion of the flight review, the instructor should not endorse the pilot's logbook to note the unsatisfactory review, but should record only the instruction given. The instructor should then recommend additional training in those areas of the review that were considered unsatisfactory.

Finally, flight instructors should consider their own qualifications and proficiency in the make and model of aircraft to be used during the review. If the aircraft to be used is one in which the instructor is not current or familiar, recent flight experience or adequate knowledge of aircraft limitations, characteristics, and performance should be obtained before conducting the review.

More complete information relating to the conduct of flight reviews can be found in FAA Advisory Circular 61-98A, Currency and Additional Qualification Requirements for Certificated Pilots. This publication is available at any FAA Flight Standards District Office.