I overheard conversation the other day, regarding a lack of pilot qualifications that troubled me a bit. No, to be truthful, it troubled me a lot. The conversation surrounded the subject of pilot certificates, pilot medicals and Biennial Flight Reviews or rather a lack thereof.
Readers should understand that the majority of pilots are straight arrows. That is to say that they follow the rules that apply to their certificate. There are the few, who, for the most part, are flying as private pilots, who own their own airplanes, and who choose to disregard regulations that are designed to save lives.
Suffice it to say that there are those private pilots who have never had formal flight instruction of any kind. They usually fly alone and use the plane like a truck on a farm or what have you. There are those who have been unable or unwilling to get a medical certificate for what ever reason but continue flying anyhow. These folks are in blatant disregard of the regulations but the reality is that they do exist.
There is another group of pilots that fail to get a Biennial Flight Review (BFR). That group mystifies me the most. It seems that going for an hour or so ride with a flight instructor once every two years is the very least a pilot can do in the name of aviation safety.
I realize that I have written about the BFR many times before and have had questions regarding the BFR more frequently in the recent past. Once and for all the BFR is not a test. You cannot fail a BFR. You can take a bit longer than you think to get a sign off but you will pass once the instructor feels that you can perform the functions of your rating safely. Maybe that means spending a bit more of your hard earned cash, but consider how much you are worth to your family.
Before you go for a BFR practice the stall series and turning maneuvers. Take some time to go over a few landings, short and soft field and spot landings. If you feel uncomfortable doing this by yourself wait and take a flight instructor with you. Don't do anything that could get you in a situation that compromises safety.
Most pilots use an airplane to go from point A to point B and don't do a whole lot of maneuvers along the way. Most pilots get rusty when it comes to stalls, steep turns and specialty landings. You are by no means unique if you see yourself as an A to B pilot. The remedy is to fly with an instructor at least every other year if not more frequently.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers a program where you can get rewarded for being a proficient pilot. The program is called The Pilot Proficiency Program, better known as the Wings Program. If you come to one Safety Meeting held by the FAA or a Safety Counselor you can ask for a Wings card to be signed. Then take three hours of flight training in a period of one year. Have your instructor sign the back of the card indicating your flight time. Send the card to your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and you're entitled to a certificate attesting to your accomplishment towards safety, a letter of congratulations and a Wings pin. You can receive a different level of pin each year that you complete the requirements. If you are lucky enough to own an aircraft you just might qualify for a reduction in your insurance premium. Accomplishment of the Wings Program also takes the place of the BFR.
In addition to that the FAA offers an inspection program for pilots and aircraft called the Pilot Aircraft Courtesy Evaluation or PACE. An FAA Operations Inspector or Safety Counselor reviews your pilot certificates and flight log books to see if you need to accomplish anything that you might have overlooked. Then an FAA Airworthiness Inspector or Safety Counselor looks at your aircraft and aircraft logbooks to see if everything is in order. There is no action taken even if something is found, other than pointing out a discrepancy, if there is any. In other words you can't get into trouble if you have overlooked something. You only need to take care of the overlooked item and you are on your way. All this for free, no strings attached.
It is all so easy that I find it hard to be sympathetic to pilots that ignore certificates or especially proficiency. You owe it to yourself to be the best pilot you know how. You owe it to your passengers and family as well.
Fly safely, and I'll see you at the next pilot safety meeting.
Patricia Mattson is the Juneau Flight Standards Safety Program Manager