During the late 1990s I participated in the FAA Pilot Proficiency Award Program. Each year, in return for attending one safety seminar and logging three hours with an instructor (one each for airwork, patternwork, and hoodwork) I met the biennial flight review requirements and got a nifty set of lapel wings.
After five or six years I quit (if I could find my lapel wings I’d know for sure). I wasn’t alone. At best guess the FAA says only 2.5 percent of eligible pilots participated in 2005. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I got bored. The requirements for each of the 20 phases was the same, and I ran out of ideas for self-imposed challenges to make those three flight hours more interesting than the same old, same old.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a good program that did more for pilot proficiency than taking a flight review every 24 months. But it could be so much better, and the new FAA Pilot Proficiency Program that took effect on January 1, 2008 is better by an order of magnitude.
Working through www.FAASafety.gov, the new Wings program is a consistent recurrent training program pilots customize to their flying needs. When you register on the FAASTeam website you create a pilot profile that records your certificates and ratings and defines your flying mission through aircraft category and class. If you’re an ATP whose day job is a 737 (where you get recurrent training at work), and you fly weight-shift trikes for fun, your profile choices can anchor the necessary core and elective Wings credits to the trike.
Three levels–basic, advanced, and master–replace the 20 phases of the old program. You need six credits, three each for Knowledge and Flight. At the basic level, two of the three in each area are Core subjects that address leading causes of accidents. The remainder is an Elective. The balance is reversed at the higher levels, one core credit and two electives in each area, but you cannot earn advanced or master levels without completing the basic level first.
Whoever designed the online system deserves a gold star. Once registered, My Wings page graphically shows your progress. Click the binoculars by the core or elective credit icon and it lists knowledge or flight activities that meet it.
Attending a safety seminar isn’t the only way to earn the necessary knowledge credits. Online FAA courses, like The Art of Aeronautical Decision Making, are among the selections, and so are commercial courses, like King Schools Practical Risk Management.
Unlike the old Wings, flight time counts for nothing. Proficiency is what matters. All of the flight subjects come from the applicable Practical Test Standards. How long it takes to fly within the PTS parameters is up to you, but you’ll not get credit until you do.
Validating your knowledge and flight credits is also done online, so pilots can no longer pencil whip the program. It also keeps track of your participation and reminds you when it’s time to take the next step in your recurrent training program. Just like the old Wings, completing the basic level or above in the new and much improved FAA Pilot Proficiency Program takes the place of a flight review. —Scott Spangler