Make Flight Reviews for CFIs Worthwhile

When you are a busy instructor, flying for yourself can be particularly enjoyable.

It may seem odd that someone who flies for a living needs to demonstrate pilot proficiency every two years, but those are the rules, with a few exceptions. [iStock]

One of the most challenging parts of being a flight instructor is making the time for your own flying, such as when you need a flight review. It may seem odd that someone who flies for a living needs to demonstrate proficiency every two years, but those are the rules, with a few exceptions, such as completing a phase of the FAA Wings program or adding a new certificate or rating. Don’t just aim to satisfy the minimum requirements—make the time spent worth something.

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Anatomy of a Flight Review

According to FAR 61.56, the flight review consists of a minimum of an hour of ground instruction, including a review of the current general operating and flight rules of Part 91, and one hour of flight with 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 privileges of the pilot certificate.”

Flight instructors who have renewed their certificates within the preceding 24 calendar months need not do the hour of ground. That means for the active CFI the flight review will consist of an hour of flying to satisfy the regulatory requirement. Pilots are expected to fly to the level of their certificate as determined by the airman certification standards.

Carefully Plan the Flight

The FAA recommends referring to advisory circular (AC) 61-98D for guidance on administering an effective flight review and encourages the flight instructor administering it to work with the pilot to develop a plan of action around evaluating the pilot’s knowledge and flying skills, rather than focusing on meeting the regulatory minimums.

The AC suggests that regardless of the pilot’s experience, maneuvers considered critical to safe flight include takeoffs, stabilized approaches to landings, slow flight and stalls, recovery from unusual attitudes, operating aircraft by sole reference to instruments under actual or simulated conditions, and operation of aircraft automation. You won’t find a minimum number of takeoffs and landings, nor does it suggest emergency approaches without engine power, but you’d be wise to include them.

Perhaps you could be under the hood for the flight to the practice area (many CFIs don’t get much IFR experience), go visual, and do a chandelle up to altitude for slow flight and stalls, followed by an emergency descent, then back to the pattern for specialty takeoffs and landings.

Last-Minute Scramble

You may have to schedule your flight review around your regular hours at the flight school, but sometimes your plans can be thwarted by aircraft scheduling, maintenance issues, or weather.

Talk to the chief CFI or owner of the school in advance—if you have to fly during regular business hours to avoid turning into a pumpkin, they will be losing two instructors for at least an hour that day, and if you work at a small school, this can be very challenging.

Add a Rating

Many CFIs opt to add another certificate or rating to satisfy the flight review requirement. If this includes a check ride, make sure the designated pilot examiner (DPE) understands you intend this to be a flight review and make sure they are OK with that. The same goes for endorsements, such as complex aircraft, high-performance, or tailwheel.

Checkouts in aircraft with new-to-you avionics are also a popular option. If you are a round-dial pilot, get some time behind a glass cockpit design. If you’ve never flown anything but the Garmin G1000, find a round-dial panel and suitable instructor and see what you’ve been missing.

When a CFI Needs a CFI

The CFI administering the review needs to observe the rating limitations of FAR 61.195, which states that the instructor must hold a flight instructor certificate with the applicable category and class rating. FAA Advisory Circular AC 61-98D states: “For aircraft in which the flight instructor is not current or with which he or she is not familiar, he or she should obtain recent flight experience or sufficient knowledge of aircraft limitations, characteristics, and performance before conducting the review. In any case, the flight instructor must observe the rating limitations of 61.195.”

The phrase “sufficient knowledge of aircraft limitations” can send you into a gray area. What if you have never flown a Cessna 170 before? It is single-engine land, and if you have that on your certificate, you should be OK, right? There are CFIs who may be asked to administer a flight review for a tailwheel pilot even though the CFI does not have that endorsement or is not tailwheel current. According to the FAA, this can be done legally provided “the person receiving flight instruction pursuant to a flight review would have to be current and qualified under Part 61 [including 61.31(i)] and must act as pilot in command [PIC] during that flight.”

Is It Instruction?

Ask that question in front of a pack of CFIs and you may get divergent answers, possibly stemming from the fact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) endorsement that CFIs are required to give to new people seeking instruction is not required for flight reviews, leading some to conclude a flight review isn’t instruction.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) guidance on the TSA endorsement, “flight reviews and instrument proficiency checks do not fall under the TSA definition of flight training as the TSA has also interpreted the definition of recurrent training to

‘not include any flight review, proficiency check, or other check to review rules, maneuvers, or procedures, or to demonstrate a pilot’s existing skills on aircraft with a MTOW of 12,500 pounds or less.’”

However, the FAA tells FLYING, “a flight review is considered flight instruction and is referenced in [FAR] 61.56. Flight training and flight instruction are considered synonymous when meeting a regulatory experience requirement under Part 61. Section 61.56(a) states, ‘a flight review consists of a minimum of one hour of flight training and one hour of ground training. Additionally,

FAR 61.193, Flight Instructor Privileges, notes a person who holds a flight instructor certificate is authorized within the limitations of that person’s flight instructor certificate and ratings to train and issue endorsements that are required for…a flight review, operating privilege, or recency of experience requirement of this part.’”

As outlined in AC 61-98D, 4.4.1, the flight review is not a check ride. Therefore it is not a pass/fail situation. However, “if the review is not satisfactory, the flight instructor should log the flight as ‘dual instruction given’ and not as a ‘failure.’” In addition, the instructor administering the review should offer a practical course of action—be it flight training, ground training, or both for the pilot to regain proficiency and return to the standard.

Many CFIs will go out and practice on their own before a flight review. They don’t want to take a chance on an unsatisfactory grade. Frankly, when you are a busy CFI, flying for yourself is particularly enjoyable. Get out there!

This column first appeared in the January-February 2024/Issue 945 of FLYING’s print edition.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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