Jeppesen online CFI renewal program a cut above the rest

 - July 9, 2008, 11:11 AM

In aviation, the old saying goes, “You don’t want to lose the ratings and certificates that you’ve already got.” And it’s nearly that time again–time to renew your flight instructor certificate, that is. Since most business aviation pilots aren’t active flight instructors (or active enough to meet the student pass rate requirements in FAR 61.197), that leaves two main options: take a check ride with an FAA examiner or complete a 16-hr CFI refresher course.

If you’re up for the challenge and a bit masochistic, you can certainly take a check ride with an examiner. However, most pilots simply opt for the easier route of taking a CFI refresher course, though many still consider a 16-hr course to be a form of torture.

The good news is that CFI refresher courses now come in many different flavors. There’s always the two-day CFI refresher course, some of which travel to various cities while others are conducted in a fixed location, usually in a place where a vacation can be combined with the course. However, this option can become quite expensive when you add travel expenses, hotel charges and food bills to the seminar fee.

For those too busy to travel or too frugal to justify the expense of attending a two-day course, there are distance-learning CFI refresher courses. And here again there are different varieties.

The traditional home-study course typically consists of a textbook (usually in a three-ring binder) and videotapes. While this can be done on the student’s own pace and schedule, the videotapes compromise portability.

Internet-based CFI renewal courses have been introduced over the past few years. With this option pilots can take the course wherever and whenever they want, provided they have access to a computer and Internet connection while they’re on the road, which is highly likely these days. Gleim, the company well known for its red-covered aviation training books, was one of the first to offer an online CFI refresher course (see “Flight instructors ‘click’ with Internet CFI renewal course,” AIN, September 2000, page 93).

Last June, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation and Jeppesen Sanderson jointly launched their foray into the arena with CFI Renewal Online (www.cfirenewalonline.com). By the middle of January more than 1,000 flight instructors (myself included) had successfully completed the Internet-based course.

Jeppesen/ASF’s CFI Renewal Online costs $150 and requires the student to have access to a computer with a connection to the Internet and a Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer. A laptop is required on the road unless a suitable PC can be found at the hotel or FBO, and each student is supplied with his own user name and password to log in.

With this course, the first lesson is a free trial that counts toward completion of the 16-hr course–a marketing concept probably borrowed from Gleim, which has offered the same kind of trial since starting its online CFI refresher course more than three years ago.

Jeppesen/ASF’s online flight instructor refresher clinic is composed of 16 FAA-mandated topics, covering everything from teaching methods to aerodynamics and flight instructor endorsements to GPS basics. Individual lessons take about an hour to complete.

Each lesson begins with a Web-based outline, which is broken up into manageable pages that the student must “turn” by clicking on the next page button at the bottom. The pages feature colorful graphics, as well as short video and audio clips, and the entire outline can be printed in PDF format once it has been fully reviewed on the Web. (Outlines average about 15 Web pages each and call for between 30 and 40 min of study.)

After poring over the material, the student must then take a 12-question quiz to uncover any deficiencies before taking the final exam for that lesson. The final exam consists of 10 questions relating to lesson subjects, and is instantly graded upon completion. A final exam score of 70 percent is required to pass the lesson and move on to the next one.

After all 16 lessons are completed, the student can let Jeppesen/ASF renew his CFI ticket or have a graduation certificate sent by mail. With the former option, on course completion the student fills out an electronic 8710 form, which then needs to be printed. An included checklist specifies what other documentation should accompany the 8710 form before it is mailed to Jeppesen for the renewal process. (One of the required documents is a “proof of identification” form that needs to be notarized.) To renew your CFI certificate in this manner, the documents must reach the Jeppesen/ASF CFI renewal department before your certificate expires. Those who choose the latter option need to take the graduation certificate to a FSDO before the
CFI ticket expires.

Impressions

I have to admit, I’m a believer in online distance-learning courses. Two years ago I renewed my CFI certificate using Gleim’s online refresher clinic and I’ve been taking NBAA professional development Internet-based courses from Embry-Riddle. And with all of this distance-learning experience, I’m starting to expect more from online education providers–more graphics, more movie/audio clips and more value.

All around, the Jeppesen/ASF delivered on my heightened expectations. The lessons were well written and logically structured, contained enough (but not too many) graphics and gave a true multimedia experience with the movie and audio clips. Above all, the course was easy to use and quite informative, at least for a CFI renewal course. And it was definitely a cut above the more expensive Jeppesen home-study CFI renewal I took six years ago.

Compared with the Gleim online CFI course two years ago, the Jeppesen/ASF course is a little more matured and graphically more elaborate. After finishing CFI Renewal Online, I retook Gleim’s online CFI renewal trial lesson to get a more current snapshot of its program. Not much has changed–it’s still heavy on text, with some, but not enough, graphics. This is what sets these two courses apart– Jeppesen/ASF uses color graphics and multimedia to complement the material, while Gleim uses black-and-white graphics sparingly. That is not to say that Gleim’s CFI renewal course isn’t worth taking. But if you want or expect graphics and a multimedia experience, go with Jeppesen/ASF.

I spent an average of 45 min on each lesson, with the shortest one taking about 40 min and the longest just over an hour. As with any online course, speed can make a difference–a faster connection yields shorter lesson times.

Interestingly, I found the 12 quiz questions to be more difficult than the 10-question graded final exam. This definitely prepares the student sufficiently for the graded exam by identifying any weak spots. The final exams were straightforward, and if you seriously studied the lesson material, you shouldn’t have any problem passing it.

From a cost perspective, the Jeppesen/ ASF course is about $50 more than the Gleim course, but the $150 for the Jeppesen/ASF course fee is still much lower than the costs of taking a two-day, on-site course. But when you add the $25 surcharge for Gleim to process your CFI renewal paperwork, the gap closes to $25 (there are no extra fees for this service with Jeppesen/ASF).

The best things about renewing your certificate online are being able to work on it wherever you want and doing the lessons at your own pace. I was easily able to fit the 16 lessons into my busy schedule. The one disadvantage of renewing a CFI certificate online vs attending a two-day course is that you are not able to meet and talk with other pilots. Sometimes I miss not having this opportunity–the coffee breaks at the two-day clinics are an excellent way to network. Oh well, there’s always e-mail.