Recency of Experience

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Recency of experience is one of the major safety challenges that we face in general aviation. Although it doesn’t seem to get a lot of direct press, it’s lurking just under the surface in many accidents. 

It’s one of the less tangible causations which push investigators to dig deep for answers that almost never materialize, at least objectively. 

No one wants to acknowledge this “soft underbelly” of aviation, largely because the solution is very simple, yet elusive. What is this magic formula that is defies GA safety?


Many aerospace industries have solved this by expanding the basic currency requirements put forth by the FAA. They require a much more comprehensive methodology to maintain not only currency, but proficiency. The obvious problem we face in recreational flying is we have to foot the bill for those additional flight hours, which is getting more expensive…not less. 

I compliment regulators for not overreacting and burdening us with their bureaucratic solutions. In spite of good intentions, governments are just not agile enough to regulate without killing the industry they seek to protect.  Plus, isn’t proficiency an individual thing? Someone with 100 hours of flight time might have different needs than someone with 10,000 hours, right? Maybe.

So the paradigm continues as we seek the balance between onerous regulations and maintaining a sport that is feasible for a larger group of participants.

If we are to maintain this luxury we have to take responsibility for ourselves – something Americans have struggled with within the last several generations. I actually applaud folks that step down because they don’t believe they can maintain the appropriate level of skill to fly safely. That would not be an easy decision under any circumstances. 

Unless you have someone else paying for your proficiency training, you are likely flying less than you were prior to the economic collapse of 2008. Many Americans are working longer hours to maintain the same quality of life and are watching their disposable income very carefully. Because of this, decisions are being made (like to fly less) that are completely counter to safety. 

I would love to solve this issue. I can only offer my humble thoughts that might help bridge the gap in the short-term.

If you have any ideas to add – and I know you do – please share them via email or comments. 

  1. If you are on the ragged edge of proficiency, maybe you should step down to something more affordable so you can fly more (this applies to renting or owning).
  2. Re-double your intellectual base. Use the time you aren’t flying to study everything you can get your hands on, especially your Aircraft Flight Manual.
  3. If you can’t afford to take her up, jump in and dry-fly for an hour. Run through procedures, both normal and abnormal from the inexpensive domain of terra firma. 
  4. Go fly with other pilots. Sharing a flight can make it cheaper so you can fly more and being in the front, even if not at the controls, is still better for your proficiency than being on the couch.
  5. Take an instructor along when you feel you have taken too much time away from the cockpit. This is much less expensive than an accident or incident. 
  6. Design your own recurrent training curriculum. Here’s where creativity can really help out. Set aside a certain amount of flight time every so often to do your manuevers. Maybe even take an IP along. If you find the right balance between intensity and cadence you might be able to take more time away from the cockpit and not compromise safety. 
  7. Get paid to fly. If you don’t have a commercial certificate, go get one and try to drum up some paying gigs. Nothing gets you into a cockpit more than someone else paying for it.

Some of the most famous and influential pilots of the last century all unanimously agreed that flying as much as possible was the secret to their success.  Their skills in handling the aircraft, ability to think on their feet, and maintain complete situational awareness all hinged upon this key ingredient. 

My final idea for maintaining proficiency that I know you’ll like! 

If you haven’t already done the following, do that immediately and then take those funds and fly more…a lot more!

  • Boat – Sell!
  • Golf membership(s) – Gone!
  • Magazine or other subscriptions – Kill ’em!
  • Gym fees – Do push-ups at the house!
  • Sell high-end bicycle(s) – Just run for Christ’s sake!
  • Sports car – Sell! Who needs more than one car?
  • Kids – Have them work in a textile factory or panhandle on weekends.
  • Spouse – Welcome your wife or husband to their second (or third) job.
  • Sell your guns  – disregard!
  • House – Downsize! Apartment living isn’t so bad. All those folks in the big cities seem to like it.

So if you feel like you need to fly more, your instincts are probably correct. Just set your intention and make it happen, easy right? I wish!

by Brent Owens

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