Sure, You Voted. But Can You Renew Yourself?
It’s inevitable, unpleasant and recurs every two years. No, not elections. We’re all very proud of your I Voted And You Didn’t sticker that’s been on your kombucha-stained, Sporty’s flight suit since 2010, but did you renew something fundamental in your life? If you’re a pilot, you probably did. If you’re not a pilot … what’s holding you back? You think Oprah is going to knock on your door and drag you to the airport? Actually, if I think that out, and I haven’t, getting Oprah into flight training could just be what GA needs. But let’s stick with renewals.
My instructor’s certificate will expire ten days before I turn 65, and this confluence has unleased double-barreled junk mail. Airline training offers have been replaced by ads for walk-in tubs and Medicare Part D scams. The whiff of my expiring CFI ticket has drawn a frenzy of offers to renew online with numerous flight schools. Non-instructors should know that the CFI renewal process is vaguely like a flight review that often doesn’t include flying (ironic).
Many pilots dread getting a BFR, but that biennial, sweaty-palm ritual wherein you explain to the CFI that your logbook isn’t lying, and you really have only flown three hours since your last review, pales when compared to what a CFI suffers to keep her instructor’s ticket. The FAA offers several paths to refreshing one’s CFIness. Let’s review those, and I’ll suggest an alternative that the FAA will surely ignore.
Instructors with a fondness for hotel conference rooms along the New Jersey Turnpike can enroll in two-day, 16-hour CFI renewal courses that include free coffee. I tried this route some years ago and sat among a couple dozen other CFIs, resembling kids who hadn’t done their homework, all hoping the teacher wouldn’t call on them. The course was efficient, informative and blew by like a Weekend At Bernie’s, if Bernie was a FAA-approved cyborg who charged from subject to subject, making all topics meld into a joyless bundle of get-me-out-of-here. Which is why two years later I opted for CFI Renewal Plan B.
Renew-at-home-in-your-underwear has been my choice for the past few cycles. Making sure to tape over the camera lens on my monitor, so the online instructors can’t see me, I log into the renewal link, enter my Visa card and travel at my own pace through the mandatory—and a few optional—topics that remind me just how little I retain after the PowerPoint goes dark. Relativity explores new dimensions when the 16 hours take weeks to complete outside a classroom environment, but at least I don’t have to pretend I’m listening … or even stay awake. During the periodic quizzes I scroll back to discover what the lesson was actually about. Upon successful completion—and I’ve never met a CFI who hasn’t been successful—I hit a key, a bell rings, and a tiny reward pellet drops from the computer, allowing another CFI to renew his wings.
After many years of our relationship, though, I had to tell my online school that I was exploring other renewal possibilities. It’s not you, Martha, it’s me. One renewal method involves letting the old certificate expire. That’s stupid, expensive and involves taking a real checkride. I can’t speak for other instructors, but my initial CFI ride with FSDO was thorough. No way I want to do that again. That’d be like demonstrating how lousy I am at parallel parking in order to renew my driver’s license.
The easiest renewal I had was two years ago when I invoked the FAR 61.197 clause that says if an instructor successfully gets 80 percent of five students (FAA’s way of saying, “four”) through a practical test for a certificate or rating inside 24 months, CFI renewal is automatic … well, almost. There’s paperwork, a goat is sacrificed, and you do have to shine your shoes before visiting your local FSDO, which for many pilots isn’t so local.
Before my last renewal I’d tallied seven new private pilots, so my CFI recert was in the bag. But I have to wonder: Why just checkride recommendations? Flight instructors do so much more than grind out new pilots. Why can’t the rule include other worthy CFI services, such as giving successful flight reviews or additional training for complex and high performance? My specialty is tailwheel training, so why can’t those newly skilled pilots count the same as graduates from an easy-to-land Cherokee program?
Even teaching a student to fuel a Cessna 172 while standing on a rickety stepladder in Iowa winter should count for something. Or getting that stuck can of Dr. Pepper from the FBO’s vending machine. These are important instructor skill sets. Gussy them up with a few layers of lesson plan objectives and, maybe, see-and-avoid, some ADM and CRM, and I’d say these undervalued CFI achievements should be renewal-worthy. I’ll await the FAA’s response to my suggestions.
Meanwhile, I have airport fences to mend. My past 24 months’ primary training tally was low, so I need to contact my old friends in the cyber-renewal world. Hope there won’t be any hard feelings, because I really need that I Renewed sticker on my flight suit. I’ll let Oprah handle the Medicare stuff for me.