Going Beyond Just Basic Compliance Training in Your Aircraft

Jason Blair, ATP, CFI-I, MEI-I, FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, AGI

November 2023

As a pilot, it is important to maintain and enhance your proficiency in your own aircraft. While completing a flight review every 24 months is a requirement to maintain your pilot certificate, there are many additional ways that you can improve your skills and become a more proficient and confident pilot. Go beyond basic currency if you want to maintain and enhance your skills. Do you want to just barely be a good enough pilot, or do you want to excel in your skills so if more was ever demanded of your skills you were up to the task? Hopefully, the answer to that question is an easy one.


One of the most important things you can do to enhance your proficiency is to practice regularly. This seems obvious, but what is less obvious is that it doesn’t mean you have to be doing long flights all the time. Even if it is just for short flights that include the specific practice of maneuvers, your skills can be maintained. You might even improve those skills if you use suggestions from the FAA Wings Program activities list to target what you do on your next proficiency flights.


Using the FAA WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program with Currency Efforts


Most pilots have heard of the FAA WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program, but not as many utilize it frequently in their currency efforts. Now, I am not saying that you need to go out and do all the seminars or activities that the FAA WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program offers, but at a minimum, it might be good to target some of your currency efforts on items included in this program.


The FAA WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program operates on a structured progression model, dividing participants into different stages. Starting from the Basic level, pilots can advance through the Advanced and Master levels by accumulating a set number of credits. Credits are earned by completing various educational activities, such as flight reviews, online courses, safety seminars, and volunteering in aviation organizations. This progressive approach not only encourages pilots to pursue continuous learning but also provides a tangible sense of accomplishment as they progress through the program.


To me, one of the best things the FAA WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program can provide is suggestions of specific things you might target for proficiency in your flight efforts.


If you go into the activities in the site, you might search for something like “ASEL” to find flight activities that count for FAA WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program credit that you could do on your next proficiency flight with an instructor. This might allow you to target specific tasks to brush up on your skills.


For example, task “ASEL-Takeoffs, Landings, Go-arounds (ATP, Comm'l, Pvt) Advanced Level - Activity Number: A070405-89” would have us do the following:

  1. Area of Operation IV, Task A: Normal and Crosswind Takeoff and Climb
  2. Area of Operation IV, Task B: Normal and Crosswind Approach and Landing
  3. Area of Operation IV, Task F: Short-Field Approach and Landing
  4. Area of Operation IV, Task K: Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing
  5. Area of Operation IV, Task L: Go-Around/Rejected Landing


Or we might choose to do this one, “"ASEL-Emergency Operations (Pvt, Comm'l, ATP) - Activity Number:A100125-10"” that would have us include these items:


From the Private Pilot – Airplane Airman Certification Standards (FAA-S-ACS-6B)

  1. Area of Operation IV, Task C: Soft-Field Takeoff and Climb
  2. Area of Operation IX, Task B: Basic Instrument Maneuvers, Cosntant Airspeed Climbs
  3. Area of Operation IX Task C: Basic Instrument Maneuvers, constant Airspeed Descents
  4. Area of Operation X, Task B: Emergency Approach and Landing
  5. Area of Operation XI: Night preparation


These and many more potential tasks give us a “to do list” for some of our currency flying that can help us target some specific skills instead of just going up and doing a few trips in the pattern and calling it a day.


If you aren’t already familiar with this program, you can learn more at www.FAASafety.gov. Oh, did I mention that Avemco is also a supporter of the program and that completing activities involved in the program qualifies you for insurance discounts?


Expand Your Experience Base by taking Advanced Training


There are many advanced training courses available for general aviation pilots, including courses on advanced aircraft systems, instrument flying, and aerobatics. These courses can help you develop new skills and enhance your proficiency in your own aircraft.


There are lots of advanced training courses you might find around the country, and you don’t have to necessarily be planning on flying the aircraft included in the training beyond that training event. Getting high-altitude training, a tailwheel endorsement, some sea-plane experience or a rating, or even just some training in a different make and model of aircraft can enhance your skills.


When you take advanced training, it doesn’t necessarily have to be for the purpose of transitioning to an aircraft you are going to be flying regularly. It might just be to expand your experience and skill set. Every different aircraft we fly and every different operational environment for which we get training adds skills and knowledge to our flying. Those skills can even help in your every-day-flyer aircraft that you have flown for years. I guarantee some tailwheel training will enhance your rudder skills if you have never done it before!


Attend Aviation Events and Seminars


Attending aviation events and seminars can be a great way to learn about new technologies, techniques, and procedures in the aviation industry. These events can also provide opportunities to network with other pilots and aviation professionals.


Every seminar I take, YouTube video I watch, or speaker I listen to prods thoughts and questions in my mind. It is rare that I don’t come away from these activities with something I can think about to improve my knowledge and skills. Take a little time once a week to join an online webinar or maybe once a month find an in-person seminar you can attend. Go out and engage with the abundant educational opportunities many of the aviation associations, the FAA, and local airports offer.


Practice Emergency Procedures


One of the most important skills that a pilot can have is the ability to handle emergency situations. By practicing emergency procedures in your own aircraft, you can develop the skills and confidence needed to handle unexpected situations in flight. We hope we never need them, but we practice for the rare instance that we do.


Even if you are taking a routine flight, while you are traveling cross-country to your destination, it can’t hurt to break out a checklist and review some of the potential emergencies that the POH/AFM detail.


Practicing for and reviewing emergency procedures doesn’t have to be a full engine failure simulation where you practice landing off-field. You might think about lots of other potential “emergencies” that might happen and how you will handle them. These might include simple things like a circuit breaker popping on a fuel-fired heater system, an alternator going offline and no longer charging the battery, a rough running magneto, or even just some suspected carburetor icing. None of these conditions are likely to bring you and your aircraft down immediately, but having a good plan to handle these and other potential challenges can help you manage them properly so they don’t progress to more dire outcomes.


Take Refresher Courses


If you have not flown for a while or if you feel like your skills have become rusty, consider taking a refresher course. These courses can help you get back up to speed and regain your confidence as a pilot.


Refresher courses can be especially useful if you are in unique or more challenging aircraft. A few aircraft out there even will require periodic type-specific training based on insurance requirements or even FAA requirements. If your aircraft doesn’t, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea.


Your flight review is great, and you might choose to do that with any old local CFI. But it can also be a good idea to find a CFI periodically that specializes in your make and model of aircraft. Brush up those specific skills in a targeted refresher course if one is available, or work with an instructor to build one for you and the type of flying you do!


Fly in Different Conditions


Flying in different conditions, such as crosswinds, turbulence, or adverse weather can be a great way to enhance your proficiency as a pilot. By exposing yourself to different conditions, you can develop the skills and confidence needed to handle a wider range of situations in flight.


There is a balance here certainly in which you will want to make sure you stay within aircraft limitations and your skill set, but even just going out and working on some crosswind skills or taking a flight on an IMC day with a proficient instructor can help brush up those skills.


Sometimes this means you have to be a little flexible with your schedule to take advantage of “the right conditions” when they present themselves. If you happen to find a free evening when the wind is 10 knots across your home airport runway, it might be time to prioritize a break in your schedule to go take the aircraft out and practice a bit.


Get Feedback from Others


Getting feedback from other pilots or new instructors can be a great way to identify areas for improvement and enhance your proficiency as a pilot. Consider flying with an experienced pilot or getting feedback from a flight instructor other than one that you normally fly with for your currency needs. You don’t always need to fly with the same CFI. Everyone that you fly with will have different experiences, tips, and pointers for you. You might also consider finding a good aviation mentor with whom you can meet or fly with periodically. Getting better as a pilot is something that all of us can work at together as a community.


You might just find yourself a good new CFI or mentor through some of the seminars or proficiency course suggestions we talked about above in this article. See how this all starts to tie together to make you more proficient?


Use Flight Simulators


Flight simulators can be a great way to enhance your proficiency in any aircraft. They are becoming more common at local airports as technology has made the investment cost barrier lower for many providers. By using a simulator, you can practice maneuvers, procedures, and emergency situations in a safe and controlled environment.


These are great tools that allow you to pause, rewind, try new situations or conditions without the risk of doing it in person, and can be utilized on a bad weather day you might not otherwise fly. You might even schedule a short simulator session in the evening after work on the way home to enhance that continued proficiency and training effort you adopt.


There are many ways that a general aviation pilot can enhance their proficiency in their own aircraft beyond doing a flight review. By practicing regularly, taking advanced training courses, participating in flying clubs or organizations, attending aviation events and seminars, practicing emergency procedures, taking refresher courses, flying in different conditions, getting feedback from other pilots, and using flight simulators, you can develop the skills and confidence needed to be a safe and proficient pilot. Remember that proficiency is a lifelong journey, and that continuous learning and improvement are essential to being a safe and responsible pilot.


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Jason Blair is an active single- and multi-engine instructor and an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 6,000 hours total time, over 3,000 hours instruction given, and more than 3000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. In his role as Examiner, over 2,000 pilot certificates have been issued. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations with a focus on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes over 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason has published works in many aviation publications, a full listing of which can be found at www.jasonblair.net.


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