FIRC’d Once Again


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.”  

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  1. One of several reasons I let my CFI lapse. When I was an IP in the C208B, (with a single engine ATP as I did not have a CFII) I no longer needed to take the FIRC since I could get the CFI renewed with the company FAA POI, but that lasted only 6 years. If the FAA would change/ease the CFI renewal training requirements, I would consider retaking a check ride to get my CFI back. Not holding my breath on that happening.

  2. What?! You don’t have to re-sit a instructor rating test on an annual basis in the Land of the Free?

  3. In the mid 1980’s I was a young Lt teaching at the Navy’s navigation school. One day I wandered into the Admin office only to find the Admin O in a total tizzy. What’s wrong, Chuck, I said. He looked at me, eyes wide with terror, and replied “we have run out of forms to order more forms ! “

    I had a good time that summer and my mission was to break every Instructional Technique rule that I had been subjected to during a week of extremely painful training on how to instruct the Navy way. My favourite was when I rearranged a progress test so that every right answer on the 50 question test was “B”.

    The good news was it was excellent preparation for when I had to write all the Transport Canada exams, and interpret the Flight Test Guide when I got my Instructor rating.

    Better news, at least in Canada, is that Transport Canada has gotten out of mandating a very prescriptive FIRC syllabus and so there are some excellent industry developed and provided virtual FIRC’s which provide a positive and generally interesting experience for the attendees.

  4. Paul… next time take a FIRC put on by the Soaring Safety Foundation (SSF), an affiliate of the Soaring Society of America (SSA). The SSF conducts them all over the country, usually during the winter months when the soaring is slow. You don’t need to be a glider instructor or even a glider pilot, the SSF’s FIRC renews all CFI certificates. Its a great chance for power instructors to learn about aspects of flying that they may not be aware of and no one usually dies of boredom.

    • I *really* need to do that. I instruct only in gliders and my online FIRCs contain a section on technologically advanced aircraft – perhaps useful when our trainers get synthetic vision :-). I understand their audience but it would be nice if there were optional sections that related to the flying that I actually do.

  5. I know your pain Paul,
    Instructed in a pilot mill half a century ago, then a career of corporate flight. Too proud to let the CFI Cert lapse so been doing in-person FIRCS. Then pandemic. Did an on-line. Love sick-n-rudder flying my J-3 these days. Loosing enthusiasm regards FAA rigmarole for CFI Cert.

  6. Great article, Mr. Bertorelli. I do not like them FAA FIRCS, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham.

  7. Folks, I attended a presentation by the New England chapter of FAAST team representatives earlier this year, and found out that what was so desperately wanted for in this article is in fact available through the FAA Wings Program. Activities completed by the CFI while flying with a student can be recorded in WINGS and can aid in the instructor completing his CFI renewal. Reminded me of a great one-liner:
    “Don’t look back – you aren’t going there.” – Guideposts Magazine.
    Oh yeah, I almost forgot:

  8. I’m of the “don’t screw with it” thought. I sat in CFI Renewal courses every two years from the first year they were offered for keeping a CFI certificate current, mid ’70s I think. The 24 hours ones were horrible. Arrive and do an early evening late at night the first day followed early next morning with 2 more days. The 16 hours at least knocked off that first early evening session. A few of the clinics were mostly ok. But each year they repeated themselves. The AOPA ones seemed to thrill at the instructors saying everything bad about the FAA they could. And the price kept going up, up. I finally subscribed to an on line renewal course, pay once, use it every two years after, no charge. It contains mildly interesting stuff, much repeated, but so much better than having to go attend a clinic. Many CFI certificate holders are not actively teaching. This allows us to keep legit at least if we do wish to occasionally do a bit of instructing. Yes, it is up to us then to do the responsible thing and insure we are proficient to whatever we wish to instruct. Keep the on line as is. My opinion.

  9. I just got my CFI renewed by doing and add on rating, (CFI-I – 61.199), after letting it expire almost 40 years ago. Even doing the CFI-I was a huge undertaking for someone who still has a day job flying a desk, (I digress), but that being said I will NEVER let it expire again! If I have to fill out a bunch of forms and do 16 hours online for the FIRC, that will be a breeze compared to all the angst, time, and stress to pass the written and the check-ride, but I hear you Paul. It’s all perspective. 🙂

  10. On the flip side, this is one of the reasons I never bothered to obtain a CFI … all the other requirements to stay current and legal as a pilot and for your airplane are bad enough. AND … these days … I wouldn’t put it past them to mandate a covid shot to do it, too. I just attended an in person FAAST team safety seminar and asked if any FAA guys were around … I was told they’re STILL hiding in their basements doing their ‘work’ in their BVD’s (sic). “No.” Up north, one of the guys at the field who is a powered parachute DPE described the horrid situation in renewing … it is worse yet. But HEY … we’re all safe … right ?

    In other hot news … today is an eight-digit palindrome date AND a bilateral ambigram date.

  11. I presume what’s really needed is:
    – reminder of key things, perhaps to learn quirks of airplanes new to you before instructing in them
    – information on any significant changes and new things