New FAA Wings Program Stresses Proficiency, Not Award

By Scott Spangler on August 25th, 2008

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.

FAA_Safety-Team 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, 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


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5 Responses to “New FAA Wings Program Stresses Proficiency, Not Award”

  1. Jim Howard Says:

    I did a Wings program every year for the 10 years prior to the new program. I’m not doing any more.

    I think the new system effectively kills the Wings program, even though the web page is nice.

    The advantage of the old system is that it wasn’t a checkride, it was just ongoing training.

    Formerly I and my CFI could concentrate on areas we mutually decided needed work. That’s over now.

    The Wings program now requires a more demanding evaluation than a BFR. Why not save time and money and just do a BFR?

    Now they’ve essentially made it

  2. Arthur Gartland Says:

    Hi Rob:

    I enjoy your blog very much (check it nearly every day to see if there is something new), but not quite sure how to post a comment — so sending this email instead.

    Concerning Mr. Spangler’s article and suggestion that the new Wings program is an “improvement” over the old — I could not disagree more. In my view, the new Wings program is DOA — a total waste of time offering no benefit whatsoever — at least to pilots like me. So why bother to participate in it? I won’t!

    By way of background, I have been a licensed pilot for 38 years (Commercial, ASEL, MSEL, Instrument), have a bit over 4,600 hours PIC (including more than 1,200 PIC in single-pilot military jet aircraft), own an Aerostar PA-60-602P/700 that I have flown over 2,600 hours since buying it 13 years ago (day, night and in all sorts of weather), have completed recurrent Aerostar-specific training every year for the past 12 years, and completed Wings XIV before the introduction of the new program — so I obviously used to find the Wings program worthwhile. In addition, I have never had an accident (albeit have had to declare a few emergencies over the years).

    The benefit of the old Wings program was that it recognized the value of my annual recurrent training, which includes, among other things, eight hours in the SIM focused on instrument proficiency and emergencies (e.g., engine-out take-offs, single engine landings to zero-zero conditions, etc.) that are inherently TOO DANGEROUS to perform in the aircraft. In return for (successfully) completing such training, I did not have to bother with a BFR (and also, of course, was able to renew my insurance each year).

    The new Wings program effectively provides no reward for recurrent training, which in my case is to a far higher standard than a typical BFR. Rather, regardless of whatever other training I complete, the new program requires me to fly with a CFI, who may have direct experience in nothing more “high performance” than a Piper Seminole. I must demonstrate to him or her the ability to conduct slow flight, hold a heading with foggles, make turns to a heading and make a safe crosswind landing — boy that’s going to really sharpen my skills! And flying with a CFI as part of the Wings program only counts for one year whereas a BFR with a CFI counts for two years.

    It seems to me that any competent, licensed pilot is better off flying a BFR every two years than bothering with the new Wings program, which appears designed primarily for student pilots and those licensed pilots that need to fly with a CFI beside them just to be safe. That, unfortunately, is a small minority of the pilot community.

    Wish whoever designed the new Wings program had thought about that.


  3. Scott Says:

    Both Arthur and Jim make valid points that illustrate that the new Wings program isn’t for everyone. It PTS performance based requirements restrict the self-led recurrent training programs safety-conscious pilots develop for themselves. What’s important to remember, however, is that the program is voluntary. Participation is an individual decision. For pilots who don’t fly a lot and have never learned the value of a structured recurrent training program first hand (like professional pilots do), the new Wings program offers an alternative to flight reviews. — Scott

  4. Daniel J Knall Says:

    The wings program is the usual bureaucratic mismash. It is far easier, efficient and cheaper to hire a CFI and drill in flight maneuvers on the way to lunch. It is also more fun. This is what flying is all about. If you need the gov. to manage your training you are already in trouble.

  5. FAA Test Says:

    The new system is not upto the mark.The new wing program is total waste of time with no benefits at all.The old Wings program had a reputation, this new system is kinda funny.

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