In my position, I talk to all sorts of pilots looking for flight training. The largest group is not Private pilots looking to add an instrument rating, or a brand new student looking to get started in aviation. The largest group is existing pilots who have let their currency lapse – in some cases for many years. Most of the pilots all share one thing in common; they are not sure what it takes to get back to flying.
The largest held misconception about getting back into flying is that you have to take another written exam or another checkride with a Designated Pilot Examiner or the FAA. Others believe that the process will take so long and cost so much that it will be equivalent to learning to fly all over again. For those who might be thinking along those lines, I have great news; the actual requirement is far, far simpler than either of those paths.
All you need to begin flying again is a current Flight Review (every 24 calendar months), recency of experience to carry passengers (if desired) and a current medical certificate.
The Flight Review –
According to FAR 61.56, a flight review consists of a minimum of 1 hour of flight training and 1 hour of ground training. The review must include a review of current general operating and flight rules of FAR Part 91 and a review of those maneuvers and procedures … necessary for the pilot to demonstrate the safe exercise of the privileges of his certificate.
Like all regulations, there is more fine print in the book, along with exceptions for pilots in specific circumstances, but that general paragraph applies to most everyone. As you can see, the Flight Review is not a huge procedure. It simply requires a flight instructor to endorse that you are safe to go flying again. No checkrides. No written exams. No FAA inspectors. Any current CFI that has privileges for your type of flying (Airplane Single Engine Land, Helicopter, Seaplane, etc.) is capable of conducting your Flight Review.
How long your Flight Review will actually last beyond the minimum prescribed time is a function of pilot proficiency and knowledge. There is an old aviation expression about expecting 1 hr of flying for every year of not flying. So if you haven’t flown in 10 years, project 10 hrs to get back in. Although I do not personally subscribe to that formula directly, it is a ballpark that many people use.
Your Flight Review will not be a hazing or tortured experience. The goal of a quality flight instructor conducting a Flight Review is to ensure your safety as a pilot, and to provide a sample review of required knowledge and flight skills. Most instructors will ask about what type of flying you do, what does a typical flight look like, and use these answers to help guide what your review will be focused on.
It doesn’t benefit you or your instructor to spend most of the review focused on ATC communications if you spend all of your time at non-towered airports. Remember that your input is welcome! Pilots should try to highlight areas of flying that they feel need work or haven’t been reviewed in years. Make the Flight Review a great learning experience, not just a regulatory requirement.
Currency Requirements –
According to FAR 61.57, in order to carry passengers you must have completed at least 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days. This requirement applies to daytime and will likely be satisfied during the course of your Flight Review. If you are interested in returning to night passenger carrying, remember to conduct those 3 landings at night to a full stop to meet the night passenger carrying requirements. If you are not planning on taking passengers up immediately, this section does not apply to a pilot flying solo.
Unless you are planning to return to flying utilizing Sport privileges, you will need to have a current 3rd class medical certificate for non-commercial operations. Medical certificate durations have changed over the years. Currently according to FAR 61.23, if you are under the age of 40 when you have your medical examination, you have 60 calendar months of privileges. If you are over the age of 40 at the time of the examination, you have 24 calendar months before needing another medical. If you have any questions about the medical requirements, your flight instructor will be able to help you decipher the rules.
These three steps are the only requirements that you need to get back into the world of aviation and begin enjoying your certificate again. Don’t wait another month to get back to it. Now is a great time to start back again.