To learn more about the renewal requirements for flight instructor certification, the best place to start is with Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 61.197. This regulation lists five methods you can use to renew your flight instructor certificate if it has not expired. These five methods must be accomplished during the preceding 24 calendar months of expiration. In summary, they are:
- Pass a practical test for a new instructor rating or for any rating on your current flight instructor certificate;
- Endorse at least five students for a practical test, with 80 percent passing on the first try;
- Show that you are in a position to regularly evaluate pilots or served as a company check pilot, chief flight instructor, company check airman, or flight instructor with a part 121 or 135 operator;
- Successfully complete an approved flight instructor refresher course (FIRC); or,
- Pass an official U.S. Armed Forces military instructor pilot proficiency check.
One important point worth reinforcing before we get into the details: a person cannot renew a flight instructor certificate that is already expired. So if your 24-calendar month eligibility window has elapsed, your only option to reinstate your certificate is to pass a practical test.
For a majority of flight instructors who are inside that 24-calendar month window, the FIRC route to renewal is by far the most popular. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 percent of the roughly 30,000 active flight instructors use this option to renew. The reasons for a FIRC’s popularity vary, but most cite convenience and education quality as draws. Some FIRC providers have received authorization to provide their content online — an attractive feature for some who may live in more remote areas or whose schedule conflicts with the typical weekend classroom offering times.
Regardless of the format, FIRCs are held to a strict set of criteria that includes at least 16 hours of course curriculum, testing standards, and a series of required core topics that all providers must cover. According to Advisory Circular 61-83H, Nationally Scheduled FAA-Approved, Industry Conducted Flight Instructor Refresher Course, FIRC programs should aspire to “challenge, motivate, and inspire attendees” as well as present meaningful information designed to help CFIs carry out their role more effectively. Recent updates to the AC helped clarify these standards further and have added a vital new core topic, loss of control.
To view AC 61-83H, follow the link in the Learn More section of this article. It covers everything you’ll want to know about a FIRC. I also recommend reviewing the article, “FIRC: A New Look at a Familiar Program” in the September/October 2012 issue of this magazine at http://1.usa.gov/Ob30H7.
One last pointer about using FIRCs: you can use them to renew anytime during your 24-month currency window. To keep your same calendar month expiration date, though, you need to submit the FIRC graduation certificate within three calendar months preceding the month of expiration. That gives you some breathing room leading up to your expiration month to schedule and attend a FIRC.
To offer an example, if a person whose current flight instructor certificate expires on October 31, 2017, seeks to renew his or her certificate through a FIRC and obtain a new expiration date of October 31, 2019, that person must present the FIRC graduation certificate to an Aviation Safety Inspector (ASI) on or after July 1, 2017. Submitting before that date will result in an expiration date calculated from the date you completed that FIRC.
Note that the three-calendar-month window is computed from the first day rather than the last day of the expiration month of the current flight instructor certificate. Therefore, if a person’s flight instructor certificate expires on October 31, 2017, the three-calendar-month window is computed from October 1, 2017.
For flight instructors who have regular students, or whose position allows them to regularly evaluate other pilots, renewal options 2 or 3 from the earlier list (listed as (a)(2)(i) and (a)(2)(ii) in the 61.197 regulation) will likely be your go-to choice. For the latter, the FAA has updated the regulation to expand the renewal provisions and provide more clarity on the role of flight instructors who are “in a position involving the regular evaluation of pilots.” This list includes company check pilots, chief flight instructors, company check airmen, or flight instructors in a part 121 or part 135 operation. The FAA further acknowledges that PICs who regularly evaluate pilots have the same option. Eligible PICs may include:
- A PIC of a multiple pilot flightcrew aircraft under part 135,
- Corporate PICs of a multiple pilot flightcrew aircraft under part 125 or part 133,
- U.S. military pilots who are PICs of a multiple pilot flightcrew aircraft,
- U.S. military instructor pilots and examiners who regularly evaluate pilots.
Another renewal option for flight instructors is to pass a practical test for a new instructor rating or for a rating already on your flight instructor certificate. To add another rating to your flight instructor certificate, you must have the category and class rating on your pilot certificate. This option, although not as popular as some of the other renewal methods, is sometimes misinterpreted. For starters, to have a practical test renew your flight instructor certification, it has to be with a rating already listed on your flight instructor ticket, or towards an additional instructor rating.
For example, if you do not have an airplane category multi-engine class rating on your flight instructor ticket and pilot certificate, then passing an airplane category multi-engine class rating practical test for your pilot certificate would not renew your instructor certificate — although, incidentally, this would satisfy your flight review requirements in 14 CFR section 61.56. It’s important to also note that taking a practical test for any one rating on your instructor certificate or adding a rating to that certificate, renews all of your instructor ratings. Similarly, if your instructor certificate has expired, taking a flight instructor certification checkride for any one rating held on your certificate will also reinstate all ratings on your instructor certificate (see 14 CFR section 61.199). Previous regulatory language in each of these areas may have given the impression that an applicant had to take a practical test for each of the ratings listed on their flight instructor certificate to either renew or reinstate. Happily, that is not the case.
Flight instructors renewing by practical test should also be aware that the test may be accomplished in a flight simulator or flight training device, provided it’s done in accordance with an approved course conducted by a part 142 certificated training center (see section 61.197 (c)). Finally, for those who go the military route to renew with a military instructor pilot proficiency check, the process is pretty straightforward. It’s a good idea however, to make sure you have documentation that is acceptable to the FAA to facilitate your renewal.
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