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The FAA Updated Their Guidance On Flight Reviews. Will It Make Aviation Safer?

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How seriously did you take your last flight review?

Unfortunately in many cases, flight reviews amount to "box checking" to complete the requirement every 24 calendar months.

The FAA just released AC 61-98D to help beef up what pilots and instructors cover in their flight reviews. While it doesn't change the regulation and minimum training requirement of FAR 61.56, it does recommend where pilots should spend their time in the review, in an effort to lower accident rates.

Loss Of Control Is The Major Concern

According to the FAA, Loss Of Control (LOC) was the number one cause for GA fatalities from 2001 through 2010.

So what exactly is LOC? It happens when aircraft accidents result from situations when a pilot should have maintained (or should have regained) aircraft control, but failed to do so. And unfortunately when LOC happens, it usually doesn't end well.

Pilot Proficiency Seen As A Common Problem

FAA studies show that LOC is most likely to happen to pilots who lack proficiency. Rusty pilots are more likely to have an accident - not necessarily on a clear, calm day - but when things don't go as planned.

So where are the major areas the FAA thinks pilots can improve on during flight reviews? Here are three of the biggest problem areas.

1) Traffic Pattern Operations

Any time you're maneuvering, your risk of LOC increases. When you're maneuvering close to the ground, like you do in the traffic pattern, the risk level goes up.

The FAA identifies three primary areas for pilots and flight instructors to focus on during the flight review when it comes to traffic patterns: departure stalls, attempting a return to the field after an engine failure, and base-to-final turn.

Here's what they have to say about all three in the Advisory Circular:

Flight instructors should emphasize training that ensures that pilots of small single-engine airplanes depart in coordinated flight at the best-rate-of-climb speed (VY) for normal takeoffs, and maintain this speed to the altitude necessary for a safe return to the airport in the event of an emergency. Flight instructors should train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to return to the field after an engine failure unless altitude and best glide requirements permit. Accordingly, flight instructors should provide training that emphasizes the correct speeds at which light twin-piston aircraft depart the runway. Flight instructors should emphasize that a departure at the best-angle-of-climb speed (VX) is used for obstacle clearance and short-field takeoff procedures.

Flight instructors should also emphasize the risks and potential consequences of climbing out at speeds less or greater than what is required for a particular type of takeoff. Flight instructors should train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to return to the field after an engine failure unless altitude and best glide requirements permit a safe return. Therefore, flight instructors should not routinely train pilots to make a 180-degree turn from a simulated engine failure while climbing. However, this training should occur at a safe altitude. A critical part of conducting this training is for the flight instructor to be fully aware of the need for diligence, the need to perform this maneuver properly, and to avoid any potential for an accelerated stall in the turn. It is essential for a pilot to know the altitude that will be lost in a 180-degree turn, in the specific make and model (M/M) flown, if and when a pilot considers turning back to the departure airport at best glide. During the before-takeoff check, the expected loss of altitude in the turn, plus a sufficient safety factor, should be related to the absolute altitude at which a turnback may be attempted. In addition, the effect of existing winds on the preferred direction of a turnback should be briefed.

Flight instructors should also teach pilots to reject an approach and initiate a go-around when the pilot cannot maintain a stabilized approach.

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2) Stabilized Approaches

Stabilized approaches are another problem area that lead to a large number of LOC accidents. Whether you're in VMC or IMC, it's hard to "chase the needles" down low, and stay safe at the same time.

Here are the areas the FAA recommends for a stabilized approach in a GA aircraft, with minor deviations on final approach. (It's something you can practice on your next flight or flight review!):

  • Glidepath. The airplane is on the correct flightpath. Typically, the glidepath is 3 degrees to the runway touchdown zone (TDZ) (obstructions permitting).
  • Heading. The airplane is tracking the extended centerline to the runway with only minor heading/pitch changes necessary to correct for wind or turbulence to maintain alignment. Bank angle should not exceed 15 degrees on final approach.
  • Airspeed. The pilot maintains a constant target airspeed within +10/-5 knots indicated airspeed (KIAS), which is usually at, but no lower than, the recommended landing speed specified in the pilot's operating handbook (POH)/Airplane Flight Manual (AFM), approved placards/markings, or 1.3 times the stall speed or minimum steady flight speed at which the airplane is controllable in the landing configuration (VSO), if not specified.
  • Configuration. The airplane is in the correct landing configuration with flaps as required, landing gear extended, and the airplane in trim.
  • Rate of Descent. Descent rate is a constant and generally no greater than 500 feet per minute (fpm). If a descent greater than 500 fpm is required due to approach considerations, it should be reduced prior to 300 feet above ground level (AGL) and well before the landing flare and touchdown phase.
  • Power Setting. Power setting is appropriate for the airplane configuration and is not below the minimum power for approach as defined by the POH/AFM.
  • Checklists/Briefings. All briefings and checklists (except the landing checklist) are completed prior to initiating the approach.

3) Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC)

Flying in the clouds is difficult and confusing. When you add in a lack of recent experience, the stakes are even higher.

Here's what the FAA says about loss of control in IMC:

Another area where pilots have experienced LOC is while maneuvering in IMC. Vertigo or spatial disorientation has been a significant factor in many aircraft accidents. The common result when a noninstrument-rated pilot inadvertently continues flight into IMC is spatial disorientation of the pilot and LOC. Pilots who are instrument rated, but not instrument proficient, are also susceptible. Recovery from LOC in IMC can be nearly impossible without skills and competency. Additionally, instrument-rated pilots maneuvering in IMC who fail to prioritize pilot workload properly and use Crew Resource Management (CRM) or Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM) may become inattentive or distracted and lose situational awareness (SA), which too often can lead to LOC. The GAJSC determined that pilots and flight instructors need to emphasize effective preflight planning and pilot proficiency to reduce the risk of LOC in IMC.

LOC is not limited to the examples provided above. Other examples of areas where pilots have experienced LOC include environmentally induced aircraft upsets, system malfunction/failure-induced upsets, and exceeding personal skills.

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What's Your Take?

While the FAA isn't changing any of the requirements for flight reviews, they are trying to make them more valuable. By focusing flight instructor effort on loss of control scenarios, they might make flying safer for pilots across the board.

Do you think the FAA's new guidance will help? What else could make flight reviews more valuable? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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