I have a love/hate relationship with the month of October. I love the even-year Octobers because those are the ones I don’t have to drudge through a Flight Instructor Refresher Course—the dreaded FIRC. But this is an odd year, so I’ve just completed an online eFIRC and I’m feeling, once again, that I’ve expended a lot of hours to not accomplish much.
But first, a digression. What sets off the biyearly feeling of overwhelming dread is another phobia I have. I absolutely, positively hate forms. I hate the filling out of them, I despise the usually pointless make work they represent and I especially despise how poorly designed most forms are because they’re created by people who love forms and because love is blind, they don’t recognize how awful their creations are.
I know where I got this affliction. It was during my unremarkable military career when, for a period, I was overseeing the filling out of forms by freshly inducted recruits. The forms were so numerous and so poorly designed and the Army so obsessive about their proper execution that recruits spent hours in large halls just filling them out. Burned into my memory is … ”Last name, first name, middle name last … do not write your name, print your name … do not sign the form until told to do so … do not scratch out mistakes, get a new form … do not make mistakes without permission.”
FIRCs dredge up these unpleasant memories because 94.4 percent of the FAA-mandated 16-hour online course is devoted to forms, the filling out of forms, the filing of forms and, if such a thing can be said, the Zen of forms.* Not even one little bit of a FIRC deals with actually flying an airplane. The mind wanders while doing a FIRC. I failed two of the post-module quizzes because, lulled into a trance unique to online courses, I robotically clicked “NEXT” despite having no idea what had come before “NEXT.” This may actually be built into the diabolical design of the course because after the second failure, you realize how pathetic you are and you start paying attention.
FIRCs are lowest-common-denominator torture that falls just below what most of us would reasonably call “training.” When the FAA was still in its Sturmtruppen years, it used to require 24 butt-numbing hours of in-person … umm, presence. Again, training isn’t the word because having taught FIRCs for a time during the 1990s, I learned what “catatonic” means by looking into the eyes of 50 FIRCees on a Sunday afternoon.
So every other October I have the faint hope that someone will invent a new way to recertify instructors. My idea is that a portion of it could be online, but a portion of it could be actual flying of an airplane to reintroduce the instructor to that quaint notion. To make the FAA happy, there could be a form to fill out after every flight.
I’m serious here. eFIRCs cost about $100—a mere pittance, really—but I think I would pay $1000 if some flying were included. Maybe more. After every FIRC, I usually do a flight review that costs half that. I’d invest twice or more in yearly training if it could be applied to recertification. I realize not everyone would do this, but if enough would, you’d have a better trained corps of part-time instructors who aren’t active enough to certify through regular activity. It would require nudging the FAA off its insistence that so many bureaucratic things have to be covered in a FIRC that there’s little room for anything else. But the agency did that once when it relented on the 24-hour requirement in favor of 16 hours devoted to the recert instead.
I know, it’s a gauzy fantasy, but these are the things that consume me when I’m somnambulating through the proper way to fill out an online 8710-1.
*This is a patently absurd exaggeration used for dramatic effect. Only 89 percent of a FIRC is devoted to forms. Further, FAR 61.686 states quite plainly that “… no person shall use Zen in any form or iteration in flight or ground training nor shall any person use higher thought, self-awareness or philosophical blathering.”