12 Tips for a Smooth CFI Renewal Experience

9 min read

Unlike our pilot certificates which expire when we do, our flight instructor certificates expire after 24 calendar months and we must renew them. There are several ways to renew your CFI certificate as described in the regulations. Remembering the nuances of each method can be a chore since we only do it every two years. Here are a dozen tips for making it a smooth experience.

Keeping Your Same Expiration Month

Most of us are creatures of habit. We like to keep things as close to the same as possible even though things are changing. In order to keep the same expiration month, there are a few things that you need to watch out for.

14 CFR §61.197(b)(2) explains that you can keep your same expiration month as long as you complete the renewal process within 3 calendar months of your current expiration date. If you use a Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC) to renew, there is an additional requirement that the graduation certificate must be dated within 3 calendar months of the expiration date.

What gets confusing is how to calculate the 3 calendar months on both of these. The simple way to look at it is that you get 3 full months plus whatever partial month you have left over in the current month. In other words, if you have a September expiration, your CFI certificate expires on September 30th. September, August, and July are your full months. As long as you renew after June 1st, you get whatever is left of June as kind of a bonus time period. If you are using the FIRC method to renew, ensure that you slow your progress (online) and finish the course after June 1st so that your graduation certificate is also within 3 calendar months. If attending a live, in-person FIRC, attend one after June 1st but before September 30th.

Tips #1 & #2, to keep your same expiration month, calculate your 3 calendar month window using the method above and plan to submit or complete your renewal within this window. If using a FIRC for renewal, also ensure that you complete the FIRC inside this window. If you are renewing after only 12 calendar months for some reason, doing it in the same month as your expiration is the only way to keep that month.

Use this window allowed by the regulation to take care of things in relaxed manner. Don’t wait until the last week of the month to scramble for a renewal. Poor planning as an instructor should not constitute an emergency renewal for someone else.

Ways to Renew

One way to renew is based upon taking and passing a practical exam or checkride for a CFI rating with your local DPE or FAA Inspector. This practical can be for a rating that you already have or it can be for a CFI rating that you would like to add. Tip #3 will likely work best for CFIs that are newer in their career but your renewal can be an opportunity to expand your earning potential by adding a CFI Instrument rating or a new category or class rating to your certificate. Depending on the addition, you may need to complete a knowledge exam and you will need another instructor’s signoff to take the practical. As a bonus, this type of renewal also counts as a flight review.

If you are an active CFI whose students have an 80% 1st attempt pass rate, renewing on your activity can be one of the simplest and smoothest ways to renew. You will need to have signed off at least 5 applicants for a certificate or rating practical test and they will need to have attained the aforementioned pass rate. Tip #4 is to submit your IACRA application with this type of record to your local FSDO or an approved DPE and renew your certificate quickly and easily.

I won’t count this one as a tip since it doesn’t apply to a lot of instructors but instructors who have served as a company check pilot, chief flight instructor, company check airman, a flight instructor in a part 121 or 135 operation, or in a position involving the regular evaluation of pilots, may be able to renew their CFI certificate based upon their duties and responsibilities. Flight instructors that also instruct in the military, may renew based upon passing certain proficiency checks there.

The primary way that less active instructors will renew is by graduating from a flight instructor refresher course or FIRC. The remaining tips will relate to this method.

A Smooth FIRC Based Renewal

Many of these tips, only apply to an online renewal service since you will likely be meeting directly with the FIRC’s Airman Certification Representative (ACR) during an in person FIRC or a local DPE or FAA inspector for an in person renewal. Some will still apply.

Tip #5 applies to and will be appreciated by anyone completing the renewal for you. Be sure to fill out IACRA completely and submit the application prior to meeting with or submitting your documents to an ACR or other renewal authority. While many FIRC providers offer a “paperless” renewal service, there is no legal way that I am aware of for them to login to your account and fill out the online application for you. They can only review your submitted application, enter your identification and graduation information, and approve the application. If a company is asking for your login details, turn around and walk away! By submitting the application yourself, you are signing it to attest to its validity and your eligibility. If you are having difficulty getting to the “signing” step, ensure that pop-ups are not blocked by your browser for the IACRA website.

While you are filling out IACRA, I would suggest following Tip #6. Sign the Pilot’s Bill of Rights (PBR). All that you are saying is that you have received the information within the PBR and that you understand that the FAA will be “investigating” the information that you have submitted prior to issuing your permanent certificate. They are going to review and investigate your record regardless. If you don’t sign it, the ACR will sign it on your behalf to ensure the FAA that you have seen the PBR. He or she may also need to follow up with you about it to ensure that you have seen the PBR. Failing to sign it yourself, just slows the process a bit.

Tip #7, use a common form of identification that is acceptable to the FAA when submitting your documents for renewal. The most common forms are a valid driver’s license or a valid passport or passport card. Obscure forms of identification require the ACR to chase down their validity which also slows the process. If you use BasicMed for your medical, a driver’s license is your best option because IACRA reminds the ACR to confirm that you have a valid driver’s license.

Speaking of your identification, Tip #8, ensure that it has a valid identification number on the front of the id or submit both sides of the id. U.S. military ids are a common and acceptable form of renewal identification for those in the military. The problem is that the identification number that is need for IACRA is on the back and the expiration date is on the front. You need to submit both sides.

When you submit your CFI certificate, Tip #9 is to be sure to submit both sides of this certificate as well. The back side of the certificate contains the most important information that will be used by the ACR, your expiration date and ratings.

Tip #10, be sure that the identification and certificate documents or images that you submit are clear and readable but not such a large size that they cause upload or email problems. Compressing them too much causes them to blur. Using flash may make important information unreadable. Good lighting without the flash works best.

The last two tips for this section apply to Sporty’s eFIRC but may also apply to others.

When uploading your documents to the Sporty’s Paperless Renewal server, there is a place to enter your phone number. Tip #11 is to be sure to fill this out with a number where you can be reached if there is a problem with your renewal. This number does not go to any marketing types. If you follow all of the tips in this post, you most likely won’t get a call. It is only there in case there is a problem with your renewal and the ACR or customer service cannot reach you by email. You won’t get other calls!

Tip #12 is a bit of a bundle related to the graduation certificate issued by the Sporty’s eFIRC system. Regardless of who completes your renewal, us or someone else, you do need to click the button that says Request Graduation Certificate. This does a number of things in the background to trigger the graduation process and gives you the opportunity to ensure that the name on your graduation certificate matches your CFI certificate and photo id. Before hitting the button, ensure that your course profile is correct (check the box for using for renewal and expiration date still in the future) to ensure that the system will issue you a graduation certificate and not a completion certificate. You cannot use a completion certificate for a renewal without help from our customer service crew. It is quicker and easier to check your profile before clicking the button.

Differences for Sport Instructors

  • 61.425 talks about renewing a Sport Instructor certificate. It simply refers you to the provisions of §61.197 for the renewal so that part isn’t any different. What does change for Sport Instructors is the version of the 8710 form that the FAA uses and the path within IACRA.

For Sport Instructor renewals, IACRA uses an older version of its software. It doesn’t look the same and it doesn’t act the same. One of the big differences operationally is that you won’t be able to sign the application before submitting it to the ACR. After the ACR fills in a few things his or her end, he or she will contact you and ask you to login to IACRA and sign the application. After you sign it, the ACR will be able to go back into the application finish a few more items and sign it as well. It takes a bit longer but it can still be completed as a paperless renewal.

Final Thoughts

There are a number of ways to renew your CFI certificate. Online and in-person FIRCs are a convenient option for many CFIs. The FAA is very prescriptive on what these must contain and who can process your renewal once you have graduated. Here’s hoping that a little preparation and planning will go a long way toward making this process a smooth one for you!

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