Question of the Month: How Can Flying Clubs Encourage Members to Stay Proficient?

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:

  • Flight review                           – 61.56
  • Recent Flight Experience       – 61.57
    • 90-day passenger currency
    • 90-day night currency
    • 90-day tailwheel currency
    • IPC

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 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 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.

Get started:

  • Have your safety officer contact the local FDSO and talk with the FAASTeam program Manager.Ask for help in setting-up a WINGS-based proficiency program.
  • You can also look-up your local FAASTeam Representative.Give them a call and invite them to your next club meeting.On the same link, you can also locate a WINGS-Pro in your area, who would be pleased to help you navigate the FAASTeam website.Feel free to contact Steve if you need any help with this.
  • Even better, have the club safety officer or a member who is a CFI, become a FAASTeam Representative.In addition to controlling your own destiny, this will allow your club to host WINGS presentations for other local pilots and clubs.

    Design your safety process:

  • Adequate:All members sign-up in WINGS and do things at their own pace. This is WINGS for Members
  • Preferable:Aligned program—members do things together.This is WINGS for Clubs
    • Pros:
      • All club members participate in the club safety culture
      • Members get WINGS credit and the progressive review benefit
      • Club can legitimately claim all-member participation and so seek insurance benefits.More on this another time, but we have been told by our contacts in the aviation insurance industry that clubs with well a documented safety program may receive favorable discounts
    • Cons: None!

    Kick it off:

  • All members get FAASTeam logins
  • Read—read—the user guide
  • Intro session with a FAASTeam Representative or WINGS-Pro, and then set-up member profiles.(The user profile is really important as it is used as a pointer to relevant material)
  • Base all club safety programs around FAASTeam and other resources that give WINGS credits
  • All members (including CFIs) participate in the flight activities as well as the knowledge activities
  • Keep records of members engagement (through each member’s WINGS transcript), as well as all club safety meetings.You will send this to your insurance company at the time of policy renewal.
  • Invite non-member pilots and other clubs to your safety meetings.You can advertise your meeting using the system, so pilots can receive an email about your event

    Bottom line.  Using WINGS for Clubs:

  • The club gets:
    • A pilot proficiency program design by the FAA
    • Safer pilots, all aligned to the same system and standards
    • Lower insurance premiums
    • A great reputation
  • Members get:
    • Increased proficiency and skills
    • Confidence in self and club colleagues
    • Lower flying costs (from insurance savings)
    • Certificates and pins!
    • Progressive flight review based on new skills, not just the same old ones every 24-months

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]




Stephen Bateman
Contributor, You Can Fly Program
Steve retired from AOPA in April 2024, but continues to contribute to You Can Fly programs. Contact Steve at [email protected]

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