Getting Current after the COVID Flying Break
By Jason Blair, ATP, CFI-I, MEI-I, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, AGI
Pilots take breaks in their flying for any number of reasons, but this year many of us are taking a break for a completely new reason: the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the United States and the rest of the world.
Once stay-at-home or travel restrictions are lifted, this break leaves many pilots needing to carefully consider their return to flying before feeling comfortable venturing out to fly to travel for business or pleasure, and to take family and friends for a local sightseeing flight again. For many pilots, currencies such as flight reviews or passenger currency may have expired. These currencies will need to be reestablished before flying alone or with passengers.
Read closely any "exemptions" for currencies you think have been given.
Many pilots have seen articles that appear to offer exemptions from medical expirations, flight review time periods, and other potential considerations with which a pilot normally must comply. Don't assume just because you have seen an article that says "flight reviews are extended through June 30, 2020" it will automatically apply to you. Many of the extensions that have been issued by the FAA during COVID-affected times come with clauses, such as that if a pilot flies with an expired medical certificate action will not be taken. But that doesn't necessarily mean you will be in compliance with your insurance policy restrictions. The extension of applicability for flight reviews is intended to keep critical infrastructure flying going and comes with requirements such as hours flown in the past year and taking some FAA Safety Team courses. The devil is in the details.
Instructors may not be current and proficient right now either.
Previously, the most common advice for regaining proficiency was to take a flight or two with a CFI. That may be different now. They may not be proficient or current either due to some downtime in their own flying!
If you are going to ask an instructor to help you get recurrent or increase your proficiency level, talk to them about their own recency of experience. Some instructors may be working to get their own proficiency levels back up to speed before they offer to instruct again [the good ones won't instruct until they have done this]. Talk with potential instructors and be patient to get onto their schedule until after they have gone out and done a few landings or approaches themselves before you ask them to instruct you for your own return to flying.
Build step by step for proficiency, not just "currency."
Start with good weather and local flying and build up the currency and your skill base to proficiency before venturing back to your normal flying activities and certainly before more challenging IFR conditions or airport environments.
Knock the rust off some landings on a low-wind day. Then practice some air work, maybe a short cross-country flight, and build to instrument approaches and conditions from there if you are instrument rated. It's not like starting training over. However, refreshing those skills to the way you gained them in the first place is the best way to relearn them.
If you happen to be out of currency for a flight review or instrument currency, reach out to an instructor to get that box checked or take a safety pilot with you and get those requirements fulfilled.
Getting current and then achieving proficiency can be challenging and frustrating. It can also be an opportunity to freshen up skills that may have been languishing even before the gap in flying.
It may take a little more time, but it's the best approach to being a good, safe pilot and hopefully enjoy a summer filled with fantastic flying as we all work to get back to normal.
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Jason Blair is an active single- and multi-engine instructor and an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 5,000 hours total time and over 3,000 hours instruction given and has flown over 100 different makes and models of general aviation aircraft. In his role as Examiner, over 1,500 pilot certificates have been issued. He has and continues to work for and with multiple aviation associations that promote training and general aviation. He also consults on aviation training and regulatory efforts for the general aviation industry. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications, a full listing of which can be found at www.jasonblair.net.
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