A Visit From the FAA

The first thing I see in my inbox this morning is a moderation request for a comment posted today that starts:

From my perspective as a FAASTeam Program Manager…

FAAST is the FAA Safety Team. “Man, I hope I didn’t say something…” Happily, he was pretty pleased with the site overall. For those of you who don’t know, FAAST is the safety training and outreach arm of the FAA. I first came across them through the AOPA/Air Safety Foundation online courses, and talked with some of their reps at HAI last year. There’s more information on the FAAST site than I’ve had time to explore, but I thought I’d point out one feature you should all be interested in: the WINGS program. For me, this has been the starting point for access to a number of good educational programs. Awwww, education…boring. Losing….interest. (Another topic altogether, but it’s your book knowledge that’s going to keep you from having to use your stick skills to save your ass…or a lawyer to save your commercial ticket. Here’s a good post on that from Maria Langer.)

WINGS. In CFR 61.56, which lays out the requirements for flight reviews, section (e) talks about an “FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency award program.” That’s what WINGS is. Instead of doing your flight review, you can meet the proficiency requirement by completing WINGS programs. All you have to do to meet those requirements is complete 3 knowledge and 3 flight credits from the activities listed on the WINGS site. Finding knowledge programs is pretty easy–there are online programs and live programs, both of which I’ve done some of, and based on your preferences, these are screened for you so you get the most relevant ones.


I like to search through the dialogue on the left, because it gets me to the search form shown on the right…there you can move back and forth between knowledge (K) and flight (F) programs at the different levels (B=basic, A=advanced, M=Master). Searching knowledge programs pulls up the online courses that you can do at your own pace and at your convenience. The AOPA/ASF has a decent series, all of which are targeted at plank-drivers but many of which (like the ATC, weather, and decision-making courses) are relevant to any pilot. This search also brings up local events that you can get credit for–FBOs and flying clubs sponsor these seminars. In addition to the general topics–DPEs or somebody from the FSDO talking about IACRA and doing a CFI clinic–the local information from these talks is what’s really valuable. Of the ones I’ve attended, one was a pre-flight weather planning talk from a corporate pilot based in Seattle, the other was from the local ATC controller, discussing their systems and procedures for the local airspace. And that one came with a BBQ lunch. Many of the on-line courses are free, and the live ones are either free or have a nominal cost ($10).

The flight portion as changed a bit since I last looked at it, but basically you go out with a CFI and perform the maneuvers specified in the activity. For example, the Performance Maneuvers activity is autos, quick stops, and off-airport landings. There’s also an instrument procedures activity that you can use both for currency and WINGS credit. You should print out the endorsement and the requirements for the activity, since the CFI might not be familiar with the WINGS program.

You might be looking at this saying, “3 online courses and 3 flights…that’s more time and money than I’d put into just doing the BFR.” Yes, you are correct but the incentive for the WINGS program isn’t saving you money.

The most significant incentive to participating pilots is the added level of safety and professionalism that is obtained through adoption of a consistent recurrent training program.

The ground portion lets you seek out topics that are of interest to you, and often gets into more detail on topics that are glossed over during your PPL(H) ground training. The idea behind the flights is that, by spreading out your recurrent training, you are better able to fight the natural degradation of skills that you don’t practice every day. Also, by having your technique regularly critiqued and refined, bad habits are easier to identify, correct, and unlearn...you can’t expect to fix sloppy pinnacle approach procedures during a short flight review if you’ve been doing it that way for the last 2 years.

The best news from the aforementioned comment is that FAAST is developing online courses and CFI modules just for helicopter pilots. Since we face different operational challenges than airplane drivers, this is sorely needed. Hopefully I’ll be posting links out to those soon.