In 1965, the FAA created the Flight Instructor Refresher Program. This program was created to form a standardization process for updating CFIs. The FAA instructors provided this education until 1977. Since then, it’s been provided through FAA approved industry courses, which allow flight instructors to renew their certificates through an official, streamlined process – the Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC).
A flight instructor certificate is one of a limited number of pilot certificates offered by the FAA that includes an expiration date. These certificates are valid for two years. If an instructor does not renew their certificate within two years, their certificate will expire. The only exception that allows for a flight instructor certificate to be renewed past its expiration date is for members of the armed forces. This only applies if military deployment prevented them from taking a CFI renewal course, which must be proved by submitting a copy of their orders. Even then, the FAA must evaluate the situation before a renewal is approved.
Per AC 61-83J, “The intent of the FIRC program is to keep flight instructors informed of the changing world of General Aviation (GA) flight training and to enhance aviation safety through continued up-to-date refresher training of the flight instructor cadre.”
Historically, these courses were offered in a classroom environment, which allowed for open discussions and, yes, even some tall tales. As dreaded as the renewal process may have been, many instructors enjoyed the discussions and camaraderie experienced every two years. With classroom courses, the dates must be presented to and approved by the FAA in advance, and the course must be offered on those dates. If any changes to those dates are necessary, the FAA must approve them in advance.
Today, with the popularity of online courses, many traditional classroom courses have been moved online. This allows instructors to take their course when it is convenient for them. And, unlike with the classroom course, the course can be taken over a period of time.
In addition to allowing for the renewal of a flight instructor certificate, §141 chief and assistant chief instructors can use the FIRC to maintain their qualifications. Instructors and non-instructor pilots can use the FIRC to progress in the FAA’s WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program. Non-instructor pilots can also take the FIRC to enhance their knowledge and understanding of more in-depth, complex aviation subjects.
The FAA dictates the content of the FIRC in AC 61-83J. The Advisory Circular outlines how the FIRC will be configured, what content is to be included, and testing requirements and administrative procedures.
The FAA dictates the topics included in the FIRC. These topics include:
- Navigating in the twenty-first century
- Security-related special use airspace
- Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
- How to teach effectively and build a culture of safety
- Current safety trends in general aviation
- Pilot deviations – their causes and how to teach pilots and students to avoid them
- How to make the best use of the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) and the Pilot Proficiency Program (WINGS) in your program of instruction
- FAA regulatory, policy, and publications changes and updates
- How to conduct an effective and useful Instrument proficiency check and flight review
- Ethics and professionalism in the role of the flight instructor
- How to teach pilots to avoid loss of control (LOC)
- Airman Certification Standards (ACS)
- Accepting a remote pilot or student pilot certificate
As you can see, the FIRC is designed for active flight instructors to keep their knowledge and skills updated and current. The FAA states that the above-listed thirteen lessons must be taught over sixteen hours. Many instructors have suggestions about additional topics they would like to see added to the FIRC. The challenge with adding additional topics is that it will add additional time, especially if they are outside the scope of the thirteen lessons listed above.
There are nine approved FIRC providers. Of these, one is focused explicitly on gliders, and one is specifically focused on helicopters. This leaves seven that are focused on airplanes. American Flyers is the largest of all the FIRC providers. In fact, American Flyers offers instructors the ability to pay once for their FIRC and then renew their certificates every two years for free. Information on the American Flyers FIRC can be found at www.americanflyers.com/FIRC.
Each FIRC provider must renew their course with the FAA every two years. This renewal includes the addition of any changes appearing in subsequent ACs, as well as any significant updates in regulations or industry standards, and a complete rewrite of the testing questions.
General Aviation and Commercial Division (AFS-800) has three division groups. They are the Training and Certification Group, the Operations Group, and the Safety Outreach Group. The Training and Certification Group, among other things, develops FIRC policies and manages all aspects of the program. They do an excellent job in oversight and compliance and promptly answer questions and phone calls. Not only do they answer questions, but they spend time with the providers to educate them on the requirements and content for each of the courses. They are perhaps the most engaged of all of the FAA oversight offices. This engagement ensures that the courses are engaging and relevant and offer a quality educational experience for the vast number of FIRC participants.
So you may be asking yourself what makes each FIRC program different if the FAA dictates the content, time, and structure. The answer is customer service. American Flyers has five Airman Certification Representatives (ACRs) on staff. Our ACRs process the paperwork and applications for thousands of FIRC graduates each month. Our FIRC support staff is available to answer any questions, whether technical or otherwise, around the clock via email, chat, and phone. American Flyers considers the classroom and online FIRC courses valuable tools in supporting flight instructors. This is why our online program is structured with a one-time signup fee of $99, enabling the instructors to renew for the rest of their lives for free. This concept supports our mission of supporting pilots and instructors.
For more information on the FIRC and other courses offered by American Flyers, please visit our website at www.americanflyers.com or contact our National Support Team at 800-362-0808.