On July 23, 2023, I will mark my 20th anniversary as a flight instructor. The expiration date on my certificate, however, is a few months earlier, because I was one of the CFIs who, during the pandemic, decided to do my flight instructor refresher course (FIRC) as early as possible. That’s because I knew the FAA was operating with minimal staff, and I didn’t want my renewal to be delayed.
Per FAR 61.197, with certain exceptions, the CFI needs to do a FIRC every two years to maintain privileges as an instructor. This comes in addition to completion of a flight review, which all pilots must do every two years.
I used Sporty’s for the FIRC and plan to do it again, as it has just released an updated version of its FIRC—and I’m all about enrichment.
According to Bret Koebbe, senior vice president at Sporty’s Pilot Shop, the new FIRC provides more focus on modern technology, weather, FAA updates, modernization efforts, safety trends, and getting the most out of IACRA, the FAA’s certification application portal.
CFIs can enroll in the FIRC by creating a free Sporty’s CFI account. This provides them access to several courses, including Sporty’s Learn to Fly, Instrument, and Commercial courses and student progress tracking in each, along with all the FAA handbooks, Sporty’s TCOs, and ground lesson guides.
To see the new course, go to sportys.com/cfi, log in, and then select the FIRC option from the menu on the left side of the screen to get started.
The new FIRC sports more graphics and images, and contains supplemental video content to illustrate each chapter.
The course covers the required 16 hours as per Advisory Circular 61-83J, which states: “Lesson presentations must contain and present a cumulative period of no less than 720 minutes (12 hours) of the FIRC’s 16-hour minimum course content,” which the user can take at their convenience.” Each lesson has review questions and a quiz to make sure learning has taken place.
Among the new courses I’m looking forward to are “How to Teach Effectively and Build a Culture of Safety,” “Professionalism for Instructors,” and “How to Conduct an Effective Flight Review and Instrument Proficiency Check.” With the pilot shortage and rapid turnover of the instructor cadre, the latter two topics are often glossed over during CFI training.
For extra convenience, Sporty’s offers a paperless renewal service for $49.95, where a company ACR will process the CFI renewal and issue a temporary CFI. This means you don’t have to make the trip to the Flight Standards District Office to receive your temporary certificate.
Why We Do the FIRC
FAR 61.197 provides the details on the renewal of the flight instructor certificate. It states, with certain exceptions, the CFI needs to complete a FIRC every two years to maintain privileges as an instructor. This comes in addition to completion of a flight review, which all pilots must perform every two years.
The flight instructor refresher course became a requirement in 1965. According to seasoned CFIs I know, before the invention of online courses for the FIRC this often meant setting aside a weekend and going out of town. You could look forward to spending at least 16 hours in a classroom or conference room with dozens of other CFIs to review the material in order to keep the privilege of providing instruction. One CFI I knew compared it to attending traffic school or detention in high school—and not the fun Breakfast Club detention. As such, the FIRC was often looked at as a chore rather than an opportunity to learn.
There are ways around the FIRC. Under Part 141 and Part 61, the FIRC can be skipped if the CFI is active and can present a record of training showing that in the past 24 months they have endorsed at least five students for a practical test, and at least 80 percent (four students) passed on the first attempt.
If the CFI allows their certificate to lapse, it can be reinstated by taking another CFI check ride—the latter is an expensive and often stressful experience, so most CFIs prefer to complete a FIRC instead.