AINsight: Developing a Personal Proficiency Plan

 - February 25, 2022, 12:20 PM

Two terms often used interchangeably in aviation regarding pilots are currency and proficiency. While each has similar definitions and complements each other, they are not the same.

Currency is the minimum requirement—defined by FAR 61.56 and 61.57 in the U.S.—to act as a pilot in command of an aircraft within a certain timeframe. As examples, to be current, a pilot must complete a flight review within the past 24 calendar months; to carry passengers, the pilot needs three takeoffs and landings in the proceeding 90 days (to a full stop, if at night); to fly IFR, a pilot needs to have flown and logged six instrument approaches in the past six months.

Proficiency on the other hand is an entirely different matter. Proficiency is “the pilot’s ability to perform a given skill with expert correctness,” or in more general terms being “fully competent.” For pilots, proficiency includes the mastery of all normal operations and an understanding of the emergency procedures related to the type of aircraft to be flown.

So currency is the minimal legal requirement to go fly, whereas proficiency relates to a pilot’s ability to competently manage any normal or abnormal situation to a safe and successful outcome. According to these definitions, a pilot can easily be current but not proficient. Conversely, a proficient pilot is likely to be current.

The challenge with maintaining a high level of proficiency is that flying skills are perishable. Extended periods of time outside of the cockpit diminish flying skills. An absence of flying decreases proficiency, and this grows with time.

Being sidelined from flying can be voluntary or involuntary. The global Covid pandemic has sidelined thousands of pilots. Other examples may include a medical leave of absence or military leave. Voluntary examples include long vacation breaks, personal leaves of absence, or being assigned other nonflying duties such as an aviation safety officer.

To maintain or regain proficiency, a pilot must develop a personal proficiency plan. Obviously, the most effective way to become proficient and sharpen flying skills is practice—either in an aircraft or full-flight simulator. For the professional pilot, taking a Gulfstream around the patch for a few takeoffs and landings may not be practical. In the same vein, a trip to a simulator training provider, such as CAE or FlightSafety, may be too costly.

In the absence of flying, a pilot’s personal proficiency plan may include routinely hitting the books and “chair flying.” At a minimum, all limitations and immediate action or memory items must be reviewed.

Likewise, reviewing flight profiles, both normal and abnormal, helps a pilot “stay in the game” by reciting callouts, configuration changes, pitch and power settings, expected automation mode changes, and contingencies such as discontinued approaches or go-arounds. A “400-level”—or graduate-level—plan would incorporate the occasional review of the systems and flight operations manuals.

For the professional pilot, most companies have an approved training program for those pilots that become “non-current.” However, a “non-proficient” program does not exist—that is on the individual. Before strapping into the jet or turboprop, ask yourself these two questions: am I current and can I competently perform a given skill with expert correctness? If the answer is “yes” to both, then go fly—you are both current and proficient.