Pilot proficiency relates to all pilots, whether in a club or not. Members of flying clubs, can, however, gain some useful help and guidance if their club really embraces the notion of a structured pilot proficiency program as part of its safety culture.
During the popular AOPA flying clubs workshops (keep an eye out for emails about these events, and also visit the PIC Events page), we ask a True|False question: “All flying clubs have a safety culture?” Most responses are “False”, suggesting that not all clubs have a (formal) safety culture, but the stinger is that such a club definitely does have a safety culture, and it’s not a good one.
Before we dig a bit more into this topic—and present a solution—we need to resolve the common confusion between currency and proficiency.
Currency is what the FAA regulations are concerned with:
These are regulatory minimums and say nothing about how well you did them.
Proficiency is what we are really after, which gets into recognized levels of performance. If all you do is remain current, you probably will not be proficient, but you’ll likely be current if you fly enough to be proficient.
You are also unlikely to be proficient if you fly the same hour on every flight—that is, you do the same things, go to the same airports, fly the same approaches, hour after hour. You become good at those things, but what happens when you decide to fly somewhere else, or if an emergency occurs? You are equally unlikely to be proficient if you treat the flight review as a chore and opt for just the signature, rather than a workout. As we say during the workshops, the flight review is a gift from the FAA, so embrace it!
Back to currency. We hear of some flying clubs that, for all the right reasons, decide to second-guess the regulations. Now, we understand that some additional currency requirements may be imposed by your insurance company, (who seem to be the ones these days that decide who gets to fly or not—more on this another time!), especially if you operate more sophisticated aircraft, but you need to be really careful if you decide (again, for all the right reasons), to state that members must have, for example, 12-calendar month flight reviews, or need to fly with a CFI if they haven’t flown in the past 90-days. By doing this, you may transfer responsibility for currency from individual club members acting as PIC under the regulations, to the club. How will the club enforce such rules, and what would happen if somebody flew after, say, 92-days and something bad happened? How would the insurance company, or a lawyer, review this situation, the club’s rules and the (lack of) enforcement thereof? The word from the AOPA legal team is clear—no club should take-on responsibility for matters of PIC currency that are clearly defined in the FARs.
Proficiency, on the other hand, is a different story. We noted above that a flight review is required for currency but is unlikely to impact proficiency—certainly the case if the review is the boringly similar (at least) one hour of ground and one hour of flight time, comprising of a few flash cards and the dreaded steeps turns and slow flight drills.
So, what’s a club to do to help its members stay proficient? The really good news is that the FAA has already provided the solution, and its all paid for, nicely gift-wrapped and fully documented!
Flying Clubs Grow WINGS
You may need to reset your thoughts about the FAA WINGS program if you haven’t followed the many improvements to the FAASTeam program over the past few years. Okay, the faasafety.gov website still takes some initial effort to navigate, but reading the instructions and user guide make it a lot easier! After 30-minutes or so of clicking around you’ll discover a wealth of information on the site, including courses, quizzes, seminars, webinars, Topic of the Month, of the Quarter…and much more. Here, at your fingertips, is an FAA created, supported and endorsed Pilot Proficiency Program that is designed to, well, keep GA pilots proficient!
Club members can earn WINGS credits by attending seminars, taking online courses, etc. that are widely advertised on the faasafety.gov site, as well as being offered by the Air Safety Institute, Experimental Aircraft Association, and other providers. Now, attending seminars doesn’t make you proficient, and so here is the real treasure—as well as knowledge credits, pilots can also earn flight credits when they fly with a CFI using WINGS flight activities. The activities are pre-packaged and ensure that you cover, understand and practice those flight situations that have shown to be the top causes of GA accidents.
If having all this done for you isn’t enough, the pot is sweetened even more by the notion of WINGS phases. If you earn three knowledge credits and do three flight activities (with an instructor) within a 12 month period, you complete a WINGS phase which qualifies as a flight review. So, by learning though first-class courses, seminars and quizzes, and by flying just 3 times a year with a CFI, you can earn a flight review every 12 months—but more importantly, you stay proficient by design. By the way, you can also earn flight credits from training. For example, if you get a tailwheel endorsement, it also counts as a flight credit, but make sure your CFI validates the endorsement in the WINGS system.
But wait—there’s more. The FAASTeam also produces the excellent FAA Safety Briefing Magazine, the FAAST Blast e-newsletter, Safety Briefing Live and other great resources that you can use individually, or as material for your monthly club safety meeting. You do hold them…don’t you?
Now think about what the program can do for a flying club. If all club members actively embrace the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program, you have essentially created a proficiency-based safety culture—WINGS for Clubs. Members use a common framework and train to the same standards, which, by the way, are those of the Airman Certification Standards (knowledge, risk management and skills)—it all nicely fits together!
Steve’s club, The Westminster Aerobats Flying Club, has taken it even further. The club has firmly based its safety culture around WINGS and all members are “strongly encouraged” to earn at least one phase of WINGS every 12 months. At the start of every club meeting the safety officer, a FAASTeam Representative, hosts a WINGS seminar or webinar, typically using the Topic of the Month material provided by the FAASTeam. The club also opens-up the safety meeting to all local pilots, so providing a service and also earning a reputation as a safety conscious flying club, which definitely helps with membership.
Here is a suggested plan of action.
Design your safety process:
Kick it off:
Bottom line. Using WINGS for Clubs:
What’s not to love about this? Okay—we know there’s a lot here, but we hope to have at least piqued your interest in using this wonderful resource for your flying club safety program. We talk a lot more about this during the Flying Club Workshops that we run around the country (webinars at present), and Steve and Drew would be pleased to tell you more about Wings for Clubs. Please email us at: mailto:[email protected]