Being a pilot is not a “learn it and forget it” type of skill. Piloting skills that are not practiced atrophy and knowledge that is not accessed and refreshed is forgotten. A pilot whose skill and knowledge levels peak out on the day he or she passes the check ride is destined to be a dangerous pilot.
Pilots should continually be learning, practicing, and improving their skillsets to keep themselves and their passengers safe. How exactly do we make sure that happens? Enter recurrent training. Effective recurrent training is a key component in keeping skills and knowledge up to date.
What is Recurrent Training?
Recurrent training is a form of scheduled refresher training that pilots must go through on a regular basis. Some recurrent training takes place every few months while other training is done on a biannual, annual, or biennial basis. Training may be in person, online, or a combination of both mediums. Written and/or practical proficiency evaluation accompanies most forms of recurrent training.
The FAA’s Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) address and regulate the type, quantity, and frequency of required recurrent training that is required for both pilots and other crewmembers.
Why is Recurrent Training Required?
The FAA describes the purpose of recurrent training as ensuring “that each crewmember is adequately trained and currently proficient for the type aircraft and crewmember position involved.” This type of standardized, structured program for maintaining and building on perishable skills and knowledge is very important, especially for pilots.
While pilots received all the initial training and demonstrated the necessary proficiency when they first obtained their certificate, if there were no recurrent training program in place, those same pilots could inadvertently let certain skills lapse and become rusty. As a pilot, there are skills that we use every flight like ATC communications, skills that we use on many but not all flights like recognizing and compensating for night flying illusions, and skills that we train on but hopefully never have to use.
The problem is that those skills we hopefully never have to use are also the ones that we need to be very proficient in so they can get us out of trouble in a dangerous situation like a stall, a tailplane stall, an accidental flight into a thunderstorm, a graveyard spiral, and more.
This is where recurrent training comes in. Recurrent flight training provides a safe, structured way to refresh and train on potentially lifesaving skills that are not practiced during everyday routine flights. By formalizing this important training, pilots are set up for success and become better equipped to handle anything that may come their way.
Another reason for recurrent training is to provide an official avenue for learning new policies, procedures, skills, equipment, and technology that has been released since the pilot received his or her certificate. Although the fundamental basics of aviation have not changed, recurrent training lets airlines and the FAA disseminate information and teach skills on the elements of aviation that are fluid and continually developing.
What are the FAA Requirements for Recurrent Training?
The amount and type of training that pilots are expected and required to complete varies based on certificate level and what Part the pilot is flying under. A Part 91 private pilot’s recurrent training will naturally look very different from that of a Part 121 airline transport pilot (ATP) or a Part 107 drone pilot.
The official recurrent training requirements are laid out and itemized in the applicable CFRs for each type of flight operations that a pilot may be involved in. Here is what to expect:
Part 61 Small Flight School & Part 91 General Aviation Recurrent Training Requirements
Pilots flying under Part 61 regulations must complete a biennial flight review with logbook instructor endorsement every 24 months. Like a hybrid of ground school and a checkride, the flight review consists of a minimum of 1 hour of ground training and 1 hour of flight training.
During the ground portion, your pilot examiner or certified flight instructor (CFI) will provide training to share new information and ask you some questions to evaluate your existing knowledge. The ground training portion of the flight review covers current general Part 91 operating and flight rules.
In the flight training portion, the authorized instructor who is conducting the review must have the pilot perform the maneuvers and procedures that the instructor believes are necessary to prove that the pilot is capable of safely operating within the privileges of their pilot certificate. Like a checkride, the air-based portion of the flight review consists of pilots demonstrating their skills on takeoffs, landings, in-air maneuvering, stalls, and emergency operations.
Expect your flight review to include these topics:
- Part 61 & Part 91 provisions
- Aircraft powerplant, major aircraft components and systems, major aircraft appliances, performance and operating limitations, standard and emergency operating procedures, and operating manual of each type of aircraft that pilot will be flying
- Weight and balance
- Navigation and use of air navigation aids
- Air traffic control procedures
- Procedures for recognizing and avoiding severe weather conditions, escaping from severe weather, and operating in or near thunderstorms
- New equipment, procedures, or techniques
Pilots are exempt from the flight review if in the past 24 months they have passed a pilot proficiency check, passed a practical test for issuance/additional rating/renewal/reinstatement of flight instructor certificate, or completed one or more phases of an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency award program like FAA WINGS. In some cases, a flight simulator may be used for the flight training portion of the recurrent training.
Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Requirements
Recurrent training is not just for pilots of manned aircraft. Drone pilots are also required to participate in their own way.
Every two years Part 107 pilots will be required to renew their remote pilot certificate. There are two options for meeting the training requirements depending on whether the drone pilot is also Part 61 certified. Part 107 pilots who are also Part 61 qualified and have a current Part 61 flight review on file are eligible to choose from either passing a recurrent knowledge test at a designated knowledge test center or participating in the Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems recurrent online course. The recurrent course covers emergency procedures, crew resource management, maintenance and preflight inspection procedures, plus applicable regulations relating to the privileges/limitations/flight operation of small unmanned aircraft systems.
Part 107 pilots who are not dual Part 61 certified with a current flight review must pass the knowledge test at a knowledge test center facility. They should be prepared to display their previously issued Part 107 certificate along with a government-issued photo ID.
Prepare to pass the knowledge test by reviewing the Remote Pilot Airman Certification Standards.
Part 121 Scheduled Air Carrier Requirements
The recurrent training for pilots flying under Part 121 must meet the following requirements:
- Quiz or other review to assess knowledge
- Include specific ground training instruction (15 hours of Group I reciprocating powered airplanes, 19 hours of Group II turboprop-powered airplanes, plus 24 hours of Group II airplane training)
- Crew resource management (CRM) training
- Line-oriented flight training (LOFT)
- Leadership, command, and mentoring training
- Extended envelope training
- Low altitude wind shear flight training
Part 125 Commercial Carrier Requirements
The recurrent training for pilots flying under Part 125 must include a written or oral test given every 12 months on the following topics:
- Airplane powerplant, major components and systems, major appliances, performance and operating limitations, standard and emergency operating procedures, and contents of approved Airplane Flight Manual or approved equivalent for each type of airplane the pilot will be flying
- Method for determining compliance with weight and balance limitations for takeoff, landing, and en route operations for each type of airplane the pilot will be flying
- Navigation and use of air navigation aids
- Air traffic control procedures including IFR when applicable
- General meteorology including principles of frontal systems, icing, fog, thunderstorms, and wind shear
- High altitude weather if applicable
- Procedures for avoiding operations in thunderstorms and hail, and for operating in turbulent air or in icing conditions
- New equipment, procedures, or techniques
- Knowledge and procedures for operation during ground icing conditions if pilot plans to authorize takeoff in such conditions
- Practical skill and technique competency check (portions of this check may be completed in a simulator if approved)
Pilots may also need to complete an Enhanced Flight Vision Systems (EFVS) competency check if applicable, and they must have had an instrument proficiency check in the last 6 months if they are IFR pilots (must do a check for each type of airplane the pilot will be flying).
Part 135 Commuter Carrier & On-Demand Operations Requirements
To be Part 135 recurrent training current, a pilot must pass a test with similar content and structure to that described under Part 125. Part 135 pilots are also required to take an instrument proficiency check every 6 months.
Part 135 carriers who employ more than a single pilot are required to establish and maintain an FAA approved pilot training program that meets both the initial training requirements and recurrent training.
Hazardous materials recurrent training is required every 24 months for pilots who have completed their initial hazardous materials training program.
How to Meet Recurrent Training Requirements
Now that we know what the training requirements are for each Part, here are some suggestions for how to meet them as well as how to prepare for recurrent training.
Enroll in the FAA’s WINGS program. This pilot proficiency program was specifically designed to provide general aviation (GA) pilots with targeted training on the areas of flight that have been statistically found to cause the highest number of GA accidents. Completing a WINGS phase can take the place of a flight review.
Take time to study the materials for the written knowledge test and review practice questions.
If you fly for a commercial carrier, airline, or commuter carrier, your employer will likely set up and oversee a comprehensive recurrent flight training program which meets or exceeds the FAA requirements. Simply participate in the program, pass the requirements, and you will remain current.
Check out aerosavvy for a sample of what a typical 3-day annual airline pilot recurrent training program looks like.
The Risks of Skipping Recurrent Training
Many pilots are less than enthused when the topic of recurrent training comes up, especially if said pilot is an airline pilot facing a challenging 3-day long training marathon. Unfortunately, it is easy to view the training as another mundane mandatory thing to check off the list or as a timewasting bit of bureaucracy, but that mindset is dangerous.
Too many pilots, both those who lived to tell about it and those who did not, would caution that active participation in a well-structured recurrent training program could have given them the current knowledge and skills to get out of a bad situation.
Another point to ponder is the difference between being legal and being safe. Alaska Airlines pilot Marc K. Henegar wrote an engaging article entitled When Legal Isn’t Safe for AOPA. In his article Henegar reminds us of the importance of regular practice in the airplane(s) we intend to fly. He points out that just because our certificate authorizes us to fly a particular aircraft, if we are unfamiliar or rusty with the plane and have not recently practiced emergency recovery procedures or key maneuvers in it, we may be legal but we may not be safe.
Recurrent training is one of the ways to build your piloting safety level and to catch any little areas where your skills may be starting to slip before it becomes dangerous.
As much as we may be tempted to brush it off and do our utmost to avoid it, high-quality recurrent training is in place and FAA required for a reason – it helps keep pilots, crew, and passengers safer by mitigating many types of accidents.
The easiest way to breeze through recurrent training is to do what you already love to do – fly. Fly often and make it a point to practice those skills that may have gotten rusty. If there are certain maneuvers you feel uncomfortable with, those are the ones to practice not the ones you perform on every flight and have mastered.
Crack open those old textbooks and refresh your knowledge on lesser-used but important topics like severe weather flying, mountain, canyon, and backcountry flying, or even mental math for pilots. While you are at it, why not flip through the most recent copy of the FAR/AIMs, review a guide to radio communications, and try your hand at the Train Like You Fly: Guide to Scenario-Based training. All of these will help keep your brain engaged and your knowledge current.
Remember: the goal of recurrent training is not for you to be forced to endure a boring and pointless exercise or to be made to embarrass yourself by failing to perform a skill up to standards. The point is to ensure that you are “adequately trained and currently proficient.”
Head on over to our Rusty Pilot Recommendations and check out our top list of recommendations for recurrent training.