If a pilot certificate is a license to learn, you might understandably regard an instructor certificate as a license to teach, which it is. But, just as a good pilot never stops learning to fly, a good instructor never stops learning to teach flying.
To encourage this mindset, in 1965 the FAA started a flight instructor refresher program to standardize training for renewal of an instructor certificate. Since 1977, the FAA has delegated the conduct of flight instructor refresher training to qualified industry organizations. In addition to approving organizations to sponsor these courses, now known as Flight Instructor Refresher Courses, or FIRCs, (the term “Clinics” was recently dropped), the agency reviews and approves the sponsor’s training course outline (TCO). Attending an FAA-approved sponsor’s FIRC provides an acceptable way for qualified instructors to renew their flight instructor certificates or to maintain qualification as chief or assistant chief instructor at a part 141 school. The FAA strongly encourages anyone who is interested to sign up and keep up with the most current trends, techniques, and special emphasis areas in flight training.
Refreshing the Refresher. With so much invested in the FIRC approach to CFI recurrency, the FAA keeps close watch on the process and the providers. In keeping with goals set out in the FAA’s 5-year plan for GA accident reduction, the agency recently convened a blue-ribbon group of aviation industry FIRC sponsors to consider whether and how to refresh the refresher course.
“There was certainly some initial trepidation,” says Aviation Safety Inspector Greg French, who organized and moderated the two-day FIRC forum. “In the end, though, the discussion was positive, and it produced a wide range of ideas for improvement.” Importantly, most are ideas that FIRC sponsors can implement voluntarily. The group agreed that it would be useful for the FAA to incorporate other concepts in an update, now underway, to Advisory Circular (AC) 61-83F, Nationally Scheduled FAA-Approved Industry-Conducted Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics.
Beyond Stick and Rudder. Whether you are an instructor, a student, or a pilot at any certificate level, the FIRC changes will affect you through their impact on the overall flight training culture. One of the FIRC forum’s most important outcomes was consensus on the need for FIRC sponsors to weave the threads of professionalism, ethics, and safety culture into all aspects of their TCOs. “Everyone agreed on teaching CFIs to impart not just physical flying skills, but also safety risk management skills,” adds French.
The revised core topics list that participants developed is impressive. As French observes, the list reflects a fundamental philosophical shift. “While some favored a back-to-basics approach, most believe it is far more important to keep the CFI up to date on significant changes in GA, including regulations, guidance, and causal factors in GA accidents. The new list includes navigating in the 21st century, security issues, conducting an effective flight review, safety culture and safety trends, avoiding pilot deviations, and flight instructor professionalism.”
Cooperation and Collaboration. In addition to updating AC 61-83F, the next steps include promoting FIRCs as the preferred method of CFI renewal; encouraging more non-CFIs to attend; considering a possible industry certification for FIRCs; ensuring testing that is rigorous, relevant, and reliable; and stepping up FAA participation in face-to-face FIRCs.
“The FIRC forum went a long way toward building a cohesive group eager to work with the FAA – and each other – to improve GA safety,” says French. “It is truly one of those rare win-win-win situations for the FAA, airmen, and industry.” (FAA Safety Briefing MayJun 2011)