The Flight Review

I see many questions about the flight review (formerly called the biennial flight review) that most pilots must complete, per 14 CFR 61.56.

The basics of a flight review are simple. Again, according to the regulation:

…(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) and (f) of this section, a flight review consists of a minimum of 1 hour of flight training and 1 hour of ground training. The review must include:

(1) A review of the current general operating and flight rules of part 91 of this chapter; and

(2) 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.

Those two items give the instructor who conducts the review a lot of latitude. And they create much confusion among pilots who are looking for an instructor. Often, pilots and instructors have differing expectations about what a flight review should—and shouldn’t—include, how much time it should take, and, of course, what the event will cost.

FAA References

FAA has published two important documents that help explain the goals the agency has for flight reviews:

Those documents include references, checklists, and general guidance for the pilot and instructor to ensure that the flight review is more than just a pro-forma exercise. Those tools are also great time-savers for CFIs who want to provide organized, structured, and beneficial flight reviews.

The FAA references above answer many common questions about the flight review. For example, many pilots don’t understand that a flight review in one class or category of aircraft meets the requirement for all aircraft they fly (at least under the basic provisions of 14 CFR Part 91):

[A] pilot must accomplish a flight review in an aircraft for which that pilot is rated. A pilot might hold multiple ratings. In such case, the pilot may take a flight review in any one of the aircraft for which he or she holds a rating or operating privilege and they will have met the regulatory requirement for all aircraft for which they hold a certificate and or rating. For example, a pilot who holds a private pilot certificate with an ASEL rating and a commercial balloon certificate may take a flight review in either aircraft and will have met the requirements of the rule for both. However, a pilot may not take a flight review in an aircraft for which he or she does not hold a rating or operating privilege. For example, that same ASEL rated pilot may not take a flight review in a Multiengine Land (MEL) airplane if he or she does not hold an MEL airplane rating. A pilot who holds only a sport pilot certificate may only take a flight review in a light sport aircraft for which he or she holds an operational privilege. For example, a sport pilot who holds airplane privileges could not take the flight review in a Cessna 172 since that airplane is not a light sport airplane and he or she does not hold operating privileges for that airplane. (AC 61-98B)

Pilots also often ask if training for an aircraft checkout or high-performance, complex, or tailwheel endorsement resets the flight review clock. The answer is a qualified “yes”—provided that the pilot and instructor understand from the outset that the pilot would like a flight review endorsement at the end of the training. Of course, the ground training for the checkout or endorsement must include the review of part 91 specified in the regulations, and the flight instructor must specifically endorse the pilot’s logbook with the appropriate entry for completion of a flight review in addition to the endorsement to act as PIC of, for example, a tailwheel, high-performance, or complex aircraft. (For examples of the appropriate logbook endorsements, see AC 61-65F Certification: Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors. ASA publishes a handy free PDF document with endorsements ready to print on labels.)

Successfully completing a practical test for a new pilot certificate or rating also meets the requirement for a flight review. The FAA recently revised 14 CFR 61.56 to add flight instructor practical tests to those qualifying events.

FAASafety.gov and FAA Handbooks

Many CFIs and pilots use resources at FAASafety.gov to meet the ground instruction requirement of a flight review. The FAA site includes a free flight review preparation Course (ALC-25: Flight Review Prep Guide) that essentially meets the requirement for a review of part 91. Printing the completion certificate and keeping it with your logbook helps demonstrate that you’ve met more than the letter of the law.

Of course, pilots preparing for a flight review should brush up on the current edition of the Aeronautical Information Manual. It’s available to download as a PDF that you can keep on your tablet or smartphone.

FAA handbooks are available for download at Handbooks and Manuals on the FAA website.

I also maintain a collection of useful aviation references and handbooks in a public OneDrive folder, Aviation Documents.

AOPA ASI

AOPA Air Safety Institute also offers excellent, free resources for both pilots and instructors, including free online courses, Safety Advisors, and other training aids such as flash cards and webinars.

I assign ASI online courses and background reading to all pilots who come to me for a flight review. Start at The Flight Review and the Pilot’s Guide to the Flight Review.

I typically ask pilots to review:

Preflight Preparation

New online resources and tablet-based apps like ForeFlight, WingX, and Garmin Pilot have changed the preflight planning habits of many pilots. I recommend the following resources for pilots who want to update their understanding of weather, NOTAMs, and related information:

Getting Back into Flying

If you’ve been away from the cockpit for a while, a typical flight review probably won’t be sufficient to get you back u to speed. AOPA has an excellent program, Rusty Pilots, that helps folks learn about key changes to regulations, airspace, and procedures; and offers advice about finding an instructor.

Understanding New Cockpit Technology

A flight review is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with new cockpit displays and technology. For pilots are transition from so-called steam gauges, I recommend the following resources:

  • Advanced Avionics Handbook (FAA-H-8083-6), a general introduction to advanced avionics, including PFDs, MFDs, autopilots, and GPS-based navigators. It’s not an operating handbook for specific boxes (you can download free PDF versions of the guides for specific devices from the manufacturers’ websites). But it’s an excellent guide to the core operating principles, standard displays, and other information that applies to all advanced avionics.
  • Instrument Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-15B); even if you’re not an IFR pilot, the chapters about flying with electronic flight displays (Chapter 6, Section II and Chapter 7, Section II) are good introductions to the displays and symbols used in typical PFDs and related cockpit displays.
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