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Flight Proficiency Center

This is the home of the Great Landings Aviation Personal Proficiency tools to support you in:

  1. Setting Personal Proficiency Minimums
  2. Making a Personal Proficiency Plan to keep you sharp and ahead of each flight, as efficiently as possible
  3. Making proficiency based go/no-go decisions for specific flights.

This tool set will be incrementally improved based on community input and further insights. These tools don’t replace solid decision making and common sense, but will provide insight in how proficiency may impact your safety and the safety of your flight.

1. Personal Proficiency Minimums

For VFR Minimums, the Air Safety Institute (ASI) recommends defining your minimums in the following terms as part of your ‘Personal Minimums Contract‘:

Proficiency Minimums as part of Air Safety Institute’s VFR Personal Minimums Contract

These proficiency minimums are both personal and situational.

Personal means that you can’t copy these numbers from someone else. There are many variables that go into this, and you have to somewhat figure this out by trial and error. Different people have different skills deteriorate at different rates. Also, this rate of skills deterioration changes as you build more experience – when one skill may become locked more firmly into muscle memory, while others become the weak link in the chain.

Situational means that these minimums apply to your typical flight. There is so much variety in the airspace, terrain, type of airports and runways that proficiency for some doesn’t necessarily imply proficiency for all. For instance, if you spend all your time flying in the Rocky Mountain back country into challenging runways, that experience doesn’t necessarily prepare you to circumvent or transition San Francisco class Bravo to fly into the huge runway at Half Moon Bay. And vice versa.

So, what do you do if you are planning a trip and you don’t meet your personal proficiency minimums? Enter the Personal Proficiency Plan.

2. Personal Proficiency Plan

  1. Your Personal Proficiency Minimums will dictate a certain frequency and duration of flights. Determine what they are, schedule them and try to stick to them.
  2. In AC 61-98D, Appendix B, the FAA provides a solid example of a personal flight plan to include each 4-6 weeks. This flight would include air work and pattern work to keep your VFR skills up.
  3. Consider including a rule that states: If my last flight is more than <4 weeks> ago, my next flight will be solo and will be aimed to rebuild proficiency by including the elements of AC-98D Appendix B.
  4. Consider including a rule that states: If my last flight is more than <8 weeks> ago, my next flight will be with a CFI for recurrent training. The flight after that will be solo to rebuild proficiency before carrying passengers or flying non-routine cross-country.

3. Go/No-Go Decisions and Proficiency

After IM SAFE (Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, External Pressures), we should have I Am Proficient as part of our pre-flight check list.

Personal Proficiency should be measured against the complexity and risk of the intended flight relative to what you, the Pilot in Command, would consider a routine flight.

Use this model to evaluate if any aspect of the flight is of higher than usual risk or complexity. If so, are you sufficiently proficient to face the extra challenge?

In Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM), the 5 P model (see table above) is a way to assess the different aspects of the flight from a risk management perspective. In the case of proficiency, we can use this model, for instance:

  • Plane: most notably, if I fly multiple makes/models, is this a plane I have recently flown routinely, or is this an airplane I just got checked out in. Or is it the same make/model, but differently equipped. We can rate this Routine, Not Routine and Challenging.
  • Pilot: Is there anything in the IM SAFE checklist that would give you pause as to how you feel about this flight.
  • Passengers: flying ‘solo’ could for most pilots be equivalent to ‘routine’. If flying with first-timers versus passengers you fly with all the time, this is going to make a big difference between this being a ‘routine’ flight or not.
  • Plan: This is where you want to spend most of the time in assessing the flight. Are you going to a familiar airport, familiar airspace, easy weather or maybe something a bit more challenging.
  • Programming: do you need GPS or other avionics functions that are not entirely routine or even difficult to do this flight?

If any of these Ps are ‘Not Routine’, but you are at full proficiency, you will likely be OK, assuming sufficient pre-flight planning. But if these are ‘not routine’ and you are below target proficiency, you will be in a warning zone, and you may not have sufficient mental capacity to deal with an unexpected situation during a higher workload phase of the flight.

An Example….

Jim is a has been a private pilot with 450 hours of PIC time, based at Sacramento Executive. He flies about 40-50 hours per year in his club’s Piper Archer. Once every 2 months, Jim takes a solo personal proficiency flight, doing air work and pattern work for an hour. His other flights, every 2-3 weeks, are usually with his teenage daughter, Jane, who loves to fly and they have adopted a pattern of collaboration in planning, preparing and conducting the flights. They challenge themselves to go to a different airport within 100 nm of home base each time. Looking back, the last 18 months, all but one destination had paved runways over 4,500 ft long. Weather has always been fantastic, with unlimited visibility and clear blue skies (it is California).

Jim is now planning a flight with Jane and two Jane’s friends. Jane’s friends have not flown in a small plane before. Jane’s friends live in the Bay Area, and they decide it will be fun to Palo Alto and back. Palo Alto’s runway is 2,500 ft long. On the day of the flight, there are a few clouds at 800 ft and visibility is 5nm and mist.

There is nothing in this scenario that screams ‘no-go’, but there are some things that make this flight Not Routine:

  • The Passengers: Flying with first time passengers will require extra attention from the pilot in preparation and during the flight. Jim will need to break his normal patterns to brief passengers, answer questions and possibly manage unanticipated situations like air sickness or fear and panic.
  • The Plan: The lower than normal visibility and the clouds at 800 ft that need to be circumnavigated aren’t beyond Jim’s capabilities, but may make the flight feel more challenging and possibly add some anxiety.
  • The Programming: Picking a route through and around the complex Class B and C airspace will require extra attention during the flight.
  • The Plan: Flying into a shorter than usual runway can lead to misjudging height and distance from the runway on approach, especially if other distractions occur at the same time.

If Jim is fully proficient according to his proficiency plan, this will most likely be a very exciting and memorable experience. By spending a little more time in preflight planning, Jim can mentally prepare for and visualize the non-routine parts of the flight. Unanticipated events are still likely to happen, but Jim will have the mental bandwidth to deal with them.

But if Jim’s proficiency has lapsed because perhaps he could not stick to his normal flight frequency, the flight may become very stressful and potentially hazardous. It is not that Jim can’t fly the plane anymore. But it will take more of his mental bandwidth, leaving less to handle the non-routine and unanticipated events.

Because in most cases, that’s what proficiency is all about: having the mental bandwidth to deal with something unexpected when you are really busy, like being vectored to an unfamiliar waypoint, or knowing which way to turn when the runway assignment changes when in close range of the destination airport. Proficiency means that routine duties are mostly delegated to the subconscious, so we can simultaneously focus on navigation, communication and risk management while keeping the shiny side up, the needles centered and the engine humming happily.

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