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Currency Versus Competency for Light Business Aircraft Operators
Flying irregularly complicates the task of maintaining currency. But, worse, it can handicap competency and proficiency. National Transportation Safety Agency records on light general aviation aircraft tell the repeated tale of how lack of preparation and judgment mistakes lead to accidents.
That’s why many pilots involved with Light Business Airplanes (LBAs) stress proficiency and competency in their flying, rather than currency minimums – particularly flying single-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR).
“When you haven’t been flying for a while you need to be sure you’re ready for the job,” stressed Ray Higgins, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-designated examiner and mentor pilot for the single-pilot Eclipse 500 for Higgins Aviation out of Missouri’s Spirit of St. Louis Airport (SUS). He also specializes in training LBA pilots in aircraft as diverse as Cessna’s 400-series twins and the Hawker Beechcraft King Air, Baron and Bonanza.
Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 61 sets only a minimum currency; competency and proficiency take more than three takeoffs and landings in 90 days or, for filing an instrument flight plan, six instrument approaches, course tracking and intercepting, and holding – within six months.
“Proficient flying takes focus, takes effort – a commitment to the flying needed to reach that point,” Higgins said.
Committing to Proficiency
James Lara concurs. He owns a Baron that he flies for his consultant business – advising companies on aircraft and business issues. “The biggest thing is for the LBA pilot to recognize that training and proficiency, currency and competency are different things,” said Lara, a member of NBAA’s Safety Committee. “Time alone is not a good measure of proficiency.”
Lara approaches flying as a responsibility demanding focus equal to his business; he changes “uniforms” as he moves from business consultant to pilot-in-command. “Off comes the suit, on goes a polo shirt and khaki slacks.” He becomes a pilot.
Before deciding to fly, Lara advises that LBA pilots perform a candid self-assessment of their readiness to fly, similar to that outlined in the second section of NBAA’s “Risk Assessment Tool: The Mirror.”
This tool is part of NBAA’s Light Business Airplane Flight Operations Manual Template, which is available to Association Members. The manual template provides guidance on safety, security and standard operating procedures, as well as information on qualifications and training, along with the risk assessment tool geared to LBA operators.
For Lara and many others, mental readiness for flying “comes first, before risk-assessment tools that examine weather conditions, time of day and aircraft mechanics.
“When you haven’t been flying for a while, you need to be sure you’re ready – and then that you know the weather, the approaches you may use, that you can set up the airplane, fly the approaches.”
Stay Sharp Rather Than Re-Sharpening
When such an assessment finds you lacking confidence in a flight, it’s time to refocus. Adopt a certificated flight instructor/instruments (CFI/I), tap your type groups, and fly.
“Look at the world’s best athletes. Every one has at least one coach,” Lara observed. “To fly at your best, you need to put a coach in your corner. That’s your CFI/I.”
That coach can help you work muscles you normally don’t: that night back course localizer approach you (almost) never need, new WAAS GPS-based LPV approaches, a night ILS, maybe brush up on failure modes of aircraft systems and avionics – particularly with today’s new glass-cockpit systems – and under the hood.
Some type clubs offer specialized programs that fulfill some of those training needs wrapped in a heavy serving of aircraft-specific practice. For example, Higgins is a recent addition to the American Bonanza Society (ABS) Bonanza/Baron Pilot Proficiency Program (BPPP), adding to his training owner/pilots in the Eclipse 500.
For the pilot working back from a lull, study is always in order, before flying – much like many formalized type-club programs.
“I participate in the ABS BPPP on an annual basis,” said Lara. He recommends pilots tap all available training from type organizations, whether it is formal programs or informal guidance.
Higgins recommends spending off-time engaged in self-study with the airplane. “Just sitting with the avionics fired up, working systems you don’t normally work, can be really useful when you return to flying.”
One way to weave a schedule to hone your flying skills into your operational practices is to tailor your own version of the LBA Flight Operations Manual using the template mentioned above.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The biggest thing is to be flying – even when it’s not a business trip. And fly like the professional pilot you are in every sense but one: the paycheck.
Said Higgins, “The difference between a pro and an amateur pilot is how you think – not whether you’re paid.”
Higgins and Lara suggest pilots set their own minimum standards for frequency to maintain a comfort zone. For Lara, these minima work:
- Fly at least 10 hours a month – and once a week;
- One to two hours must be in instrument conditions;
- After laying off flying for a couple of weeks, immediately go flying simply to knock of the rust;
- Practice with a CFI when you are behind more than a couple of weeks or can’t get the IMC needed for valid practice.
And when you return to flying, be prepared, Higgins stressed: “Every time you go, say to yourself: are you ‘here’ mentally? Feel up to this flight? Are you prepared for the flight?”
For More Information
Download the Light Business Airplane Flight Operations Manual.