Your Aeronautical Clock is Ticking

If you’re flying under a U.S.-issued pilot certificate, your days are numbered.

Before you panic, I’m not screaming “the TSA is coming,” or warning of some new restriction on private flying. Although an FAA pilot certificate is good for the life of the pilot, since the early 1970s, U.S. pilots have had to regularly renew their certificates in order to exercise flying privileges. Yet even now, there’s much misunderstanding about the requirement for a Flight Review.

Federal Air Regulation (FAR) 61.56 outlines the requirement for the Flight Review. Many, many pilots and instructors call it the biennial flight review (“BFR“), but the “b-word” disappeared from the books over a decade ago. “Biennial” means “every two years,” and for the first 15 or so years of the Flight Review requirement the “regs” in fact officially called it the BFR. In the late 1980s, though, studies showed many fatal aircraft accidents happen to pilots without instrument ratings, or with less than 400 total hours. To stem that tide, the Feds proposed an annual flight review requirement (the “AFR“) for all non-instrument rated pilots, and all pilots with less than 400 total logged hours. The AFR wording was worked in with the proposed rulemaking that led to the Recreational pilot certificate.

Wayback machine moment: This was the same time the 250-hour total time requirement for the Instrument rating was first lowered to 125 hours, and soon after dropped altogether to encourage newly minted private pilots to launch immediately into life-extending instrument training.

Although pilot political action committees got the AFR requirement dropped, the FAA had already revised the wording of 61.56 to apply equally to an annual or a biennial flight review — since then calling it simply the “flight review.” Calling it a BFR now is quaint and outdated, something like calling a 747 a “jumbo jet,” or referring to airspace around a major airport as a “TCA.

To exercise the privileges of the recreational, private, commercial or airline transport pilot certificate, you must accomplish a Flight Review administered by a current instructor pilot rated to act as pilot-in-command of the airplane used.

Insider’s tip: You can get a flight review in an approved flight simulator, but it must be a true simulator for a type of aircraft for which the pilot is rated, and the training must be administered in a Part 142 Training Center — like FlightSafety or an airline’s training department. No desk-top “sim” or PC-based “flight training device” time may count toward the Flight Review.

Your Flight Review is valid for 24 calendar months — the last day of the month in which it comes due, two years after the last review. Complete a Flight Review on November 5, 2002, and your next Flight Review is due no later than November 30, 2004.

Flight Review alternatives:

  • Take a checkride. Take (and pass) an FAA checkride for an additional pilot certificate or rating, and the 24-month clock starts over on the date you passed.
  • Earn your WINGS. Complete the classroom and flight portions of a level of the FAA Wings Program (and receive the completion certificate), and you have 24 more calendar months to fly before needing your next flight review or alternative.
  • Pass that airline check. Required airline and military flight proficiency checks meet the requirements of FAR 61.56.

If you go the Flight Review route (as opposed to one of the alternatives), the review must consist of the following:

  • A minimum of one hour each of ground training and flight instruction, including:
  • a review of the current general operating rules of FAR Part 91, and
  • a review of “those maneuvers and procedures that, at the discretion of the person giving the review, are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of the pilot certificate.

Exception: The rules are a little different for glider pilots, in allowing three instructional flights in a glider as replacement for the one hour of flight requirement … sometimes conditions won’t allow a one-hour flight in a glider. Then again, the FARs don’t say the one hour requirement in airplanes has to be flown in a single flight, either.

The “regs” require us to log all flight time used to prove currency, so have your CFI sign it off in your book. It costs nothing extra to include in the written log the ground instruction time and topics also. The instructor must also provide an endorsement for the Flight Review — there’s an FAA-approved incantation that he/she must write in your book to be legal. If the instructor does not feel his/her student flew well enough to receive the endorsement, the student has not “failed” anything — log the time as dual received, and realize sometimes we all need a little extra refresher to be safe to act as pilot-in-command.


Does a logged instrument proficiency check (IPC; old timers might cling to the term Instrument Competency Check, or ICC, but like BFR the term is long outdated) count as a Flight Review? Maybe. But, to satisfy FAR61.56, the IPC must include:

  • the minimum one hour each of ground and flight instruction, and
  • the Flight Review logbook endorsement in addition to that for the IPC.

In other words, if you’re instrument rated and your instructor agrees an instrument instructional flight demonstrates your ability to safely exercise your pilot certificate, that’s fine. Just spend the required time on the ground and in the air, and make sure your instructor writes TWO endorsements in your book — one for the IPC, and one for the flight review.

Flight Instructor Refreshers
How about renewal of a flight instructor certificate? We CFIs have to attend a seminar, take a checkride or otherwise renew our instructor certificates every two years, too. Does a CFI renewal pass for a Flight Review? No. FAR61.56 allows a 16- to 24-hour Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC) to count for the one hour of Flight Review ground instruction, but the pilot still needs to log an hour of dual in the air, and receive the Flight Review logbook endorsement.

BOTTOM LINE: Your aeronautical clock is ticking. It’s all about being safe as well as legal. No matter how you meet the requirement for the Flight Review, make sure you’ve fully logged your option in your pilot’s logbook. Beyond that, make sure it means what it says.

Posted in Law