7th July 2022

GA Recency

Initial Report

There is no doubt at all that currency is important in General Aviation, and after returning to flight following COVID restrictions many of us will freely admit we were a bit rusty. For those of us not fortunate enough to own, or own part of, an aeroplane it was interesting to see various flying schools and clubs adopt a different approach to a return to flight; some allowing derogations to the usual currency rules with members allowed to fly solo following some basic remote online briefings, others looking for anything from a few circuits to a full check ride. But across the country the ‘requirement’ for currency varies drastically from 22 days to 90+ days, sometimes limited to the same aircraft, sometimes not, sometimes limited to club aircraft, sometimes flying elsewhere is recognised, sometimes not. We all set personal minima, at least I feel it’s important that we should, and my personal feeling is that I would be uncomfortable if I had been away from flying for more than about six weeks, but there’s a bigger question around ‘on type’ proficiency. Yes, aircraft systems are different, but the principles are the same. I’ve definitely gone comfortably 3-4 months between flights on the same aircraft.

I know of two flying schools that, post-COVID, have changed their currency requirements to be much more restrictive, notably insisting that flights are performed on the same aircraft to be ‘current’ but I fear this has an unintentional side effect; people may fly less, which in turn probably makes us less proficient. I know both I and others have cancelled flights due to availability, which previously would have been resolved by ‘take G-ABCD instead’ which then leads to flying less frequently – ironic given what is presumably trying to be achieved with ‘currency rules’. Another case in point; I recently undertook a cross-country flight in an aircraft I had far less experience with because I was a matter of days over the ‘currency’ period for my usual first-choice aircraft, but had flown the other type (despite having less experience overall) two weeks prior. It was uneventful, and great fun as always, but it makes you wonder what is better for safety and proficiency; flying the better equipped aircraft you’ve flown many hours in the preceding six weeks, or flying the aircraft you flew the circuit in two weeks prior?

I’m surprised flying schools aren’t more aligned in this matter, and there seems to be little advice from organisations like AOPA, LAA, or the CAA, beyond the 90-day rule in law. As for where the ideal balance lies, I don’t know. I’m not an instructor, and having spoken to a few about this it seems they all have a view that lies between 30 and 90 days, with most recognising that it’s when you last flew, not what aircraft, that’s more significant (save for obvious differences like complex types, or tailwheels etc) and it varies drastically from pilot to pilot based not solely on experience but also their mindset in other ways. So, how often is ‘enough’? I don’t know, but I do know that making it harder to fly doesn’t feel conducive to safety either.

CAA Comment

CHIRP Comment

The reporter’s thoughtful comments are topical; recency (satisfying the rules) versus currency (actual ability to fly safely) is a subject that’s been much debated in recent weeks within safety circles, including for commercial pilots. Perhaps there ought to be more guidance given to GA about this but, as the reporter mentions, it’s probably a very personal thing – currency requirements for someone with next to no hours flying will be a lot different than for someone with thousands of hours and qualifications, personal experience, competence and associated comfort levels. It also depends on the type of sortie that is to be conducted; a simple circuit trip might need a very different level of currency to flying a complicated transit or instrument flight. As a result, any aspiration to devise a global recency/currency requirement would probably be too difficult to define because of the number of variables and individuality of pilots. Schools and clubs also have to take into account the views of the owners and insurers of their aircraft and so there might even be bespoke requirements that differ from aircraft to aircraft of the same type at the same club. All-in-all, it’s a very difficult subject for schools and clubs to decide what currency/recency requirements should be imposed in normal times, let alone what might be required after the extended lay-offs that had been introduced as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown so it’s perhaps not surprising that there are inconsistencies.

Although this may be a subject that’s too difficult to resolve, it’s food for thought as a reminder to us all that we need to think about personal comfort levels and capabilities. In past discussions about currency, the concept of the ‘Farley Card’ has been aired by CHIRP before. This was devised by the test pilot John Farley who used it to make sure that he had covered the essential elements of his personal currency comfort levels over a period of time. The BGA have also developed a currency barometer tool for glider pilots that has some read-across to powered flight. Both of these might provide some use to schools, clubs and syndicates as they look at what currency individuals might require. That being said, the use of the Farley Card is a way of constructing a personal tool for regular use but might not be applicable for flying after long lay-offs and pilots should always consider taking a flight with an instructor if they feel rusty. Finally, currency does not necessarily equate to competency, capability or proficiency, and there is always a risk that we might over-estimate our abilities even when current, so care must be taken when we are not well-practised after a lay-off.

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