Kick it Up a Notch

By Gene Benson, Pilot and Aviation Educator

October 2019

There are many things in aviation that are misunderstood. During a go-around, should I pitch first or add power first? Why is wind shear more dangerous for a large airplane than for a small airplane? Why should I not climb if I fly into an area of sleet? What is the FAASTeam and can I benefit from participating in it?


Since this is an article and not a textbook, I will only address the latter of those questions. I have been a Lead Representative in the FAA Safety Team, or FAASTeam since its inception 15 years ago. Trust me; I would not be volunteering my time, talent, and treasure if I did not believe in the cause. Anyone who has followed my writing over the years will know that I tell it like I see it, I do not support organizations or causes that I do not believe in, and I do not pull any punches.


As a replacement for the Aviation Safety Program, the FAASTeam was rolled out by the FAA in 2004. It got off to a bit of a rocky start but has undergone continuous improvement and now has extensive content and much better usability.


On the local level, there is a FAASTeam Program Manager (FPM) who is generally an FAA Safety Inspector. Under the FPM, there are volunteer FAASTeam Representatives with some designated as Lead Representatives. We may be called upon to perform numerous tasks, but most commonly, we conduct safety seminars and webinars. We are sometimes asked to counsel a pilot who might need a bit of guidance on safe procedures. In a more general sense, our mission is to promote aviation safety within our flying community.


I will not repeat the mission statement and detailed structure of the FAASTeam here. If you are interested in that, visit and click on About FAASTeam near the top of the page. I will provide a quick summary of how and why participation in the FAASTeam can make pilots safer.


The core of the current program is WINGS, which is modeled after the recurrent training programs provided to airline and business aviation pilots. Utilizing the methods of a safety management system, the WINGS program will automatically tailor a custom recurrent training plan for the specific pilot based on the category and class of aircraft flown, as well as the kind of flying most frequently done. The pilot only needs to create a profile and the system does the rest. Activities will be recommended and lesson plans for the flight portions will be created.


But the custom plan should not be treated as a buffet in which we pick a few items and leave the rest. While attending a seminar, a webinar, or taking a course online is a positive step, it does not take full advantage of what the WINGS Program has to offer. I would strongly encourage every pilot to “kick it up a notch.” That is to complete a phase of the WINGS program each year. It will substitute for a flight review and it will make you safer.


Of course, we can meet our flight review requirements by doing some ground and flight instruction with a CFI rather than completing a phase in the WINGS Program. It will most likely be easier, faster, and less costly than completing a phase of WINGS. But legal and safe can be very far apart in the spectrum and safety should not be something that carries a price tag, whether the price be in money, time, or effort.


There are three phases to the WINGS program, Basic, Advanced, and Master. Completion of any qualifies as meeting the requirements of a flight review. Completion of a phase of WINGS requires a balanced program of academic and flight training. The academic component must include one credit from each of the three categories. There is a category devoted to aeronautical decision making (ADM) and another category concerning aircraft performance and limitations, and a third general category which is an elective.  Similarly, the flight component must include one credit from each of two sections of the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) and one credit on basic flying skills.


While there is some choice of specific activities, the program is designed so that a wide spectrum of training is required. Pilots often recoil when we hear “required,” but the airlines and business aviation operators did not achieve their outstanding safety records by allowing pilots to choose the easiest way to fly legally. They require (there’s that word again) rigorous recurrent training, both in the classroom and in the simulators.


Our smaller, less complex general aviation airplanes do not require less skill and knowledge on the part of the pilot than do our heavier, more complex cousins. We can make the case that our small GA airplanes require more from the pilot. We may have only one pilot to make critical decisions. We do not have a second pilot available to assist with checklists or communications. We do not have an operations staff available for advice, nor can we easily be connected with a maintenance professional for troubleshooting. We do not have a professional dispatcher watching over our routing, weather, fuel needs, and aircraft loading. We must deal effectively with an ill passenger without flight attendants specifically trained for inflight medical emergencies. It is all up to us, and we have a responsibility to be as knowledgeable and proficient as possible. After fifty years of accident and incident free-flying, both professionally and personally, I strongly endorse the FAA’s WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program.


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Editor’s Note:  Avemco Insurance Company has been a leading safety advocate for general aviation for decades.  To further support the goal of reducing incidents and accidents and to educate pilots, Avemco became a sponsor of the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program in 2008 and provides the WINGS pins that are sent to each pilot that achieves their Basic, Advanced or Master phases of the course.


Avemco has also partnered with the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), to support the Paul and Fran Burger $10,000 WINGS Challenge Sweepstakes, administered by the WINGS Industry Advisory Committee.  Pilots who complete a phase of WINGS and CFIs who validate the phases are eligible to receive a chance to win cash prizes.  Readers may find specific information and the latest news on this program at, and


Gene Benson has had a lifetime of aviation experience.  He has lived and breathed aviation from his first official flying lesson at the age of 14, to his first solo on his sixteenth birthday, to his 8,000 hours of flight instruction given. He has served as the Dean of Aeronautics for an aviation college, as an instructor for a major domestic airline, consultant to several foreign and domestic airlines, and to business aviation.  His academic background includes degrees in psychology, education, and business. His specialty now is the application of human factors to error reduction and safety in aviation and other industries. He is presently a FAASTeam Lead Representative and has recently served as a member of the NBAA Safety Committee. Gene’s work can be viewed at

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