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Finishing Up by the Numbers


Finishing Up by the Numbers

Finishing Up by the Numbers

The “finish up” course in flight training is perhaps one of the most ambiguous courses there are. While it is true that your hours never expire, your proficiency and currency are a different story. The last thing that you as a student wants to hear is that your school or instructor has guessed at the course that you need. Unfortunately, for some students at some schools, this is the reality.

At American Flyers, we prefer a more scientific approach to the numbers. Consider these examples.


Age: 48

Occupation: Doctor

Course: Private pilot finish-up

Background story: Jan started training twenty years ago. A delay ensued as business and family obligations arose. This meant that the importance of flight training took

a hit, and it moved to the bottom of the priority list. Jan’s kids are now in school, the medical practice is booming, and Jan is ready to finish up.

Jan has the following hours:

Total time: 55 hours

Total dual: 53 hours

Dual cross-country: 1.5 hours Dual night: 2 hours

Solo: 2 hours

When putting this course together, we must consider both the quantity and the quality of the time.

In this case, we first look at the total time. At 55 hours, we know that the minimum requirement of 40 hours has been met.

Next, we look at the dual hours. As stated in 14 CFR 61.109, a candidate must have at least 20 hours of dual time. In this case, Jan has 53 hours of dual, so that requirement has been met. Now we delve into the quality of the time.

Jan has 1.5 hours of dual cross-country time and needs a total of 3 hours. So, at a minimum, 14 CFR 61.109(a)(2) says that Jan will need 1.5 hours of dual cross-country training. This includes the 100 nm cross-country requirement, and 10 takeoffs and landings. We aren’t very concerned about either of these when designing the course because we can most likely address them during the remaining 1.5 hours of dual cross-country time.

Next, 14 CFR 61.109(a)(3) states that the student must have 3 hours of training on the control and maneuvering of the airplane solely by instruments. We must add these 3 hours to the training plan because Jan does not have instrument time.

This leaves the 3 hours required for checkride prep and the 10 hours of solo. Since Jan has 2 hours of solo, we will only need to include 8 hours of solo in the course. Then comes the 3 hours of dual in preparation for the checkride.

CAUTION: To many people, this seems like a very minimal course that could be finished in no time. What’s even more disconcerting is that there are schools and instructors out there that will quote a student this course based on the minimum hours that we identified. This is unrealistic and will most likely lead to the student not finishing their training.

When presented with a course like this, we know there will need to be several things that need to be added. Such as:

Written preparation: 24 hours.

Dual simulator: 3–5 hours (to prepare for the time in the airplane). We will practice emergency procedures, navigation, communications, and instrument skills. Even though this won’t count toward the hours needed, it will minimize the hours in the airplane.

One-on-one ground to ensure that the student understands what we will be doing and how we will be doing it in the airplane.

Dual airplane: 10 hours (to review and refresh all the skills that were forgotten). This time will be in a cross-country environment to prepare the student for their solo flights.

Solo: 8 hours in the airplane.

Checkride preparation: 3 hours to review and prepare for the checkride.


Age: 32

Occupation: Business owner

Course: Instrument rating finish-up

Background story: Raymond earned his private pilot certificate last year. He started to do some instrument training with an instructor a few months ago, but his instructor moved away. He is considering purchasing an airplane but wants to get his instrument rating before doing so.

Raymond has the following hours:

Total time: 135 hours

Dual instrument training received: 15 hours

Dual cross-country after the private: 6 hours

Raymond passed his FAA knowledge test with a score of 75 percent.

In taking a closer look at Raymond’s logbook, we can see that the instructor working with him spent 5 hours reviewing BAI, 10 hours on instrument approaches, and 4 hours on cross-country procedures.

14 CFR 61.65(d) states that the following flight proficiency must be met to qualify for an instrument rating:

  • 50 hours of PIC cross-country
  • 40 hours of actual or simulated instrument training
  • 250 nm instrument cross-country flight

Raymond only has 6 hours of cross-country time, so he will need 44 hours more to qualify for the instrument rating under 14 CFR 61.65.

His score on the FAA knowledge test is a potential red flag. Starting out, we need to ensure that Raymond has a satisfactory level of ground knowledge. Based on the lack of structure in his flight training, we will also need to determine his proficiency level in the airplane, and whether his ground knowledge is commensurate with his flight proficiency. To do this, we begin by conducting an evaluation/training session. Once this has been completed, we will compare his performance on that flight to the logbook evaluation.

In Raymond’s case, he would be better off enrolling in the 141 instrument course rather than working to qualify for his instrument rating under Part 61. I say this because the 141 course consists of 40 hours of training and does not have the 50 hours of PIC cross-country requirement. This will enable Raymond to build on his initial knowledge base while benefiting from a fully structured course.


Age: 24

Occupation: Student

Course: Commercial pilot finish-up

Background story: Mary began her flight training when she was 18 years old. She earned her private pilot certificate in 60 hours and her instrument rating in 40 hours. After that, she flew 20 hours on her own in rented aircraft.

Mary has the following hours:

Total time: 125 hours

PIC cross-country time: 20 hours

Mary has not yet passed her FAA knowledge test. She has been studying on her own.

When we look at someone in Mary’s situation, the first thing that we do is determine if she is better off completing a course under Part 61 or Part 141. The difference is that she can earn her commercial pilot certificate under Part 61 requirements with an additional 125 hours of training. Or, she can enroll in a Part 141 commercial pilot program and earn her commercial pilot certificate with an additional 120 hours of training. Based on these calculations, we then meet with the student and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both options.

When considering the proper guidance, especially when the difference in hours is so close, we always err on the side of caution. That is, we will enroll Mary into the Part 141 commercial pilot course, knowing that if she can finish in fewer hours, we can always disenroll her from 141 and have her finish using the Part 61 requirements in fewer hours. However, this does not work the same way in reverse. Either way, Mary will be taking her checkride around the same hour mark.

We will also discuss with Mary the possibility of earning her multi-engine rating during the course. The hours would count towards her ultimate requirement, and she would end up with an additional rating. This is especially true when you consider that despite all the hours required for the commercial pilot certificate, only about 10 to 15 of those hours are needed to focus on commercial specific maneuvers.

As you can see from all three examples, more goes into planning a finish-up course than most people think. We try to establish a realistic picture based on our experience of where a pilot is proficiency wise. By comparing this to the logbook, we can develop a training plan. The student needs to understand the difference between what is in their logbook and their proficiency level.

Students also need to understand that they are an integral part of any finish-up plan. They must understand where they are and what they must do to succeed. This requires a certain degree of trust in the school and in the training plan.

American Flyers has been specializing in finish-up programs since 1939. Our national support team is available to plan a finish-up course with you at any of our locations.