Golden Age Aviation, Inc.
Earl C. Downs, President
The Flight Review – A Time to Learn
I don’t recall the exact date that the flight review was created, but it was somewhere in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The FAA was becoming concerned with the fact that a pilot certificate never expired, but pilot proficiency does tend to get a bit rusty as the years roll by. Rather than requiring pilots to renew their certificates periodically, the FAA came up with the idea of requiring dual instruction on a regular basis.
To keep this discussion simple, I’ll ask and answer the most common questions about flight reviews.
What do we call a flight review?
A flight review is found in FAR 61.56. Let’s start by getting some terminology straight before I get to the details. When the flight review rule first came out, it was originally written as the, “biennial flight review.” However, most pilots referred to it as a, “bi-annual flight review.” Biennial or bi-annual, it became known as the BFR. After the term BFR had been around for a number of years, the rule was revised and the word “biennial” was dropped. Now, the regulation just refers to it as a flight review. I’ll call it by its correct name but you’ll still hear many pilots referring to it as a BFR.
Why must we take a flight review?
FAR 61.56 states, “…no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft unless, since the beginning of the 24th calendar month before the month in which that pilot acts as pilot in command, that the person has…accomplished a flight review.” The wording in the regulation has us count backwards from the date of our planned pilot in command (PIC), flight to the date of our last checkride or flight review. However, most pilots count time requirement the other way. That is, we look at the date of our checkride or last flight review and count 24 calendar months ahead to determine when the next flight review is due.
Notice the rule refers to flying PIC. If you go beyond the 24 calendar months for your flight review, you may not operate an aircraft at all. This means you may not fly to the location to take the review, even if you fly solo. If you have an instructor near you, this is not a concern but it could crimp your style if you must fly to another airport to perform the flight review. It pays to plan ahead.
Does the flight review always maintain a 24 calendar month cycle?
Sometimes the cycle is extended based on other things you do. If you take an FAA certification checkride for another pilot certificate or additional rating, the clock starts over for the next flight review from the date of the new checkride. For example, if a sport pilot takes, and passes, a private pilot checkride a year after becoming a sport pilot, the flight review clock starts over from the date of the most recent checkride.
Do all pilot have to accomplish a flight review?
No. Some pilots are in continuing training programs involving frequent training and checking. The military is an example of this and certain commercial operations also fall into this category. These pilots are not required to perform a flight review. But, they are meeting the intent of the flight review by being compliant with more frequent training.
Student pilots are also exempted from the flight review, and that may seem odd until you understand how it works. Student pilots must receive dual training and receive an instructor logbook endorsement every 90 days. Therefore, the frequent training required of a student pilot negates the need for a flight review.
What kind of aircraft can be used for the flight review?
A flight review can be performed in any aircraft you are rated in. You do not have to take a flight review for each rating. However, if you hold a sport pilot certificate, your flight review must be performed in an aircraft that is light sport aircraft (LSA) eligible. If you are rated higher than a sport pilot but are exercising sport pilot privileges, you do not have to perform the flight review in an LSA. Any aircraft in which you are rated will have established flight review protocols that you must address if you are rated higher than a sport pilot.
Who performs the flight review?
The flight review may be performed by any current, certificated flight instructor (CFI), who is rated in the category of aircraft being used for the flight review. If you are using a sport pilot rated CFI, an LSA must be used for the flight.
What is a flight review?
FAR 61.56 states, “…a flight review consists of a minimum of one hour of flight training and one hour of ground training.” (Gliders are the exception to the one -hour flight requirement). The regulation also states, “The review must include: A review of current general operating and flight rules of part 91…and a review of those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the pilot privileges of the pilot certificate.”
That’s all the regulation says about the review itself. Most CFI’s customize the flight review to match the pilot’s type of flying. When I schedule a flight review, I perform a pre-schedule interview to help me determine what should be included in the review. I let the pilot help me put it together. I ask the pilot if there is any special ground or flight training he or she would like to receive.
Most pilots usually want to review new rules and the national airspace system, and I’m always ready for that. If the pilot doesn’t have any suggestions, I brief them about the training I have in mind, and suggest it may be a good time to learn something new. For example, I’ve found many pilot know how to obtain a weather briefing from the Flight Service Station (FSS) prior to a flight, but some have never talked to an FSS inflight. To compensate for this fact, I have pilots practice contacting Flight Service while airborne.
The point is that, you and the CFI should work together to make the flight review a productive training session. If you’re really out of practice, plan more than one flight. The flight review does not have to be completed in one flight.
Anytime you receive training for any purpose, consider combining it with a flight review even if your flight review is not due. When I provide instruction for a taildragger checkout or for transition training in my Zodiac, I always ask the student if they want the training to apply to a flight review. Adding a flight review may only add a few more minutes to the training and could be a cost-effective way to keep your flight review current.
It’s important to perform the review with a CFI who will work with you to determine what training you require. If you find a CFI with an “it’s my way or the highway” attitude, I suggest you look for a different instructor.
What happens when I pass or fail a flight review?
You don’t pass or fail a flight review. You either satisfactorily complete the review or you don’t complete the review. If the review is completed, the instructor places an appropriate endorsement in your pilot logbook. If more training time is needed to finish the job, a logbook entry is made for the training completed, but the endorsement for the completion of the flight review is omitted. You simply have to receive some more training.
Continued training may be accomplished with the same CFI or a different one. As long as you have not lapsed your flight review currency, you may continue flying until the flight review is completed.
Is there any way to bypass a flight review?
I already mentioned there are things that count as a flight review, such as passing a checkride for anther certificate or rating. However, the FAA also sponsors the Pilot Proficiency Award program, which encourages continued pilot training by issuing awards for completing program phases. It’s called the wings program, and you can find more information at: www.faasafety.gov/WINGS/pub/learn_more.aspx.
The flight review is a friendly way to stay proficient and current. It is not a test and will probably be less intimidating than any of your primary training. Remember, when it comes to receiving training, you are a customer as well as a trainee. It’s up to you to find a flight instructor who shares an interest in the type of flying you like to do.
As an instructor, I enjoy flight reviews because I can teach the real-world application of pilot skills and not be locked into preparing a student to pass a test. Administering flight reviews are fun for me, and they should be fun for you. Look at the flight review as your opportunity to become a better pilot.