I don’t directly sell or organise Flight Instructor Seminars – the article below is simply a review of my experience attending one. If you wish to participate in a seminar, please contact an approved training organisation such as AOPA UK, FPT, On Track Aviation or Pooleys. This list is not exhaustive and is not a recommendation for or against any particular provider. The review below is based on my experience with OnTrack Aviation and relates to my UK issued licence. Those holding EASA licences should ensure that any seminar is recognised by their own CAA.
EASA Flight Instructors must revalidate their rating every three years, completing two of the following three requirements:
- Instruct a minimum number of hours in the final year of the rating validity period
- Attend a Flight Instructor refresher seminar
- Pass an Assessment of Competence with an FI Examiner
At least every alternate revalidation must include an Assessment of Competence, which typically takes around 1.5 hours and involves a short flight, giving a (student) briefing and a Q&A knowledge session.
For those actively instructing, it is common to alternate these AoC with a refresher seminar. Once every six years doesn’t seem very frequent to me, and many instructors do participate even when not required to do so.
There are very few approved providers of these courses in the UK, with On-Track in Wellesbourne and AOPA in London being two. When I heard that On-Track were offering their course online during the lockdown, I jumped at the opportunity to participate this way. It would save on both travel and overnight accommodation, although miss out on some of the mingling and interaction typical during this type of event.
Operating in this way required consent from the CAA, who actively supervise and approve both content and delivery. The session was delivered using Zoom, a very popular meeting App that has become prevalent during lockdown. It would be necessary to ensure that all participants were actively engaged (i.e. not just leaving the screen running in the background), so everybody was required to have their video camera active at all times. I was warned that questions could be asked of individual participants at any time, and if you didn’t answer within a couple of minutes then would be considered absent and so would not be certified as completing the course.
CAA representatives were present in the background throughout, presumably monitoring the sessions and checking if everyone was awake.
Details were circulated a couple of days in advance, including Zoom meeting links for each day and Powerpoint downloads for everything except the breakout workshops. It was worthwhile skimming through these but I didn’t spot anything particularly surprising.
- Pilot Licence regulations
- Airborne Instructional Techniques
- Breakout workshop
- Aviation Medicine
- Threat and Error Management
- Instructor Assessment of Competence
There were around 60 students involved. These ranged from the relatively newly qualified (not yet sent a student on a solo cross country) through to the very experienced. There seemed to be quite a few lapsed instructors aiming to renew their rating, including several who had lost their commercial pilot jobs. It’s hard to say if this means there will be a surfeit of Flight Instructors coming available soon or not. The content was the same for all, and there was no difference for me revalidating my Instrument vs PPL instructor privileges.
There were remarkably few technical problems at the start. During the introduction, Alan Newton spent about 20 minutes explaining exactly how Zoom is operated and how the sessions would run which helped a lot.
I won’t expound the content in detail but I think it worth highlighting a few takeaways.
- The same seminar and content applies to all sorts of instructors, from CRIs to FIs including those training for LAPL, PPL, IR, CPL and Multi-Engine. The focus was mostly on the PPL syllabus.
- Pilot licensing remains complex and fluid. Nobody is really sure what will happen as a result of BREXIT. I think that licence/rating applications would best be processed through an online system that validates entries to reduce errors, but that is still some way off for PPLs.
- The current navigation syllabus (based on the circular slide-rule and ded-reckoning) does not align with modern GPS tablet methods, which are strongly recommended by those seeking to prevent infringements. We are told that the PPL syllabus will be updated to incorporate GPS tablet operation, and the skill test will include that for one navigation leg.
- The Skyway Code is one of the CAA’s best publications for years, and should be strongly recommended to all.
I felt that the Zoom format worked really well. There were breakout rooms used for workshop sessions, where groups of about 12 students were segregated with an instructor who worked interactively with us. The larger forum was used for the main presentations and questions asked in an orderly manner by virtually raising your hand. A technical problem with one speaker’s internet was dealt with by swapping around the agenda while it was resolved.
The breakout session worked by assigning 5 groups of 12 students to their own instructor. Zoom allows larger sessions to be split into parallel sessions, as if you had moved into separate breakout rooms and can’t see or hear others. A supervisor can pop-in from time to time to check on you, and send you messages warning when the time is about to run out.
As with any aviation exercise, some paperwork is involved. In order to revalidate my rating, an FIE (Flight Instructor Examiner) needed to physically sign my licence. When applying for the seminar, I had to scan and upload various documents to prove I met experience requirements – my licence including rating page, medical, logbook etc. Subsequently and after thorough checking, an FIE at OnTrack signed and posted me a licence rating continuity sheet to be kept with my licence.
I would hope that this format of course delivery continues, even after lockdown, so that we all have a choice. I’d also like to see other ATO’s offering this option, and hope that the CAA were suitably impressed with this method of keeping instructors suitably refreshed. Even better, I’d like the CAA to consider other formats such as those used elsewhere as described below.
FAA approved on-demand eLearning refresher courses
Worldwide ICAO guidance requires instructors to have a two-day refresher course. The FAA set a two-year rather than three year revalidation period for their instructor rating. My understanding is that an FI may never need to fly with an examiner throughout their career as long as every two years either 80% of at least five students pass first time or they complete the refresher course less than three months prior to rating expiry.
The course can be either a two-day classroom course or a 16 hour online training (using an on-demand eLearning system) comprising 13 modules which can be spread over several months. A background timer ensures that students have spent the required time reading digesting the material following by quizzes with random questions to ensure the content was understood.
Ratings can be updated through the FAA’s online IACRA database without the need for any paper forms.
One academy even has an offer to provide life-time online FI refresher training for a one off fee of $99.
In my own circumstances, as long as I continue to instruct and gain the qualifying hours, then I will next need to pass an Assessment of Competence with a Flight Instructor Examiner in three years time (early 2024). Thereafter, as long as I meet the qualifying instructional hours, it’s entirely optional for me to undertake another refresher seminar until six years time. While I do try to keep up to date with developments, I can’t help but think that a well designed two-day eLearning course taken at my own pace and convenience would be more relevant.