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Thu, Jul 26, 2007

Wings 2.0 -- The New FAA Pilot Proficiency Program

Most Ambitious Agency Pilot Safety Program To Date

by ANN Correspondent Dave Ziegler

Pilots who understand the importance of staying proficient are likely to be familiar with the FAA Pilot Proficiency Award Program, or "Wings" as it is more commonly known. For decades, this program and others like it have aimed to increase General Aviation safety by recognizing and rewarding pilots who undergo regular recurrent training.

While the Wings program has been largely successful, the original implementation had some inherent weaknesses: First, while it did require participants to receive a specific amount of ground and flight instruction per phase, there was no requirement for a pilot to actually demonstrate proficiency. Second, the type of instruction specified was somewhat general and did not necessary focus on the major causes of accidents. Third, the program was rigidly defined in Advisory Circular 61-91H, limiting its ability to adapt with the accumulation and analysis of new accident data.

Another unforeseen weakness emerged when the FAA attempted to increase Wings participation by introducing the Wings Weekend, an event in which pilots could meet all ground and flight training requirements of a Wings phase in a short period of time. James Pyles, FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) Program Manager, talked with ANN at Oshkosh about these issues. "In concept that sounds like a really good idea, but it really circumnavigated one of the major important parts of the Wings program, which is that ongoing training during the year."

The New FAA Safety Team

Perhaps one challenge in managing a larger, more comprehensive proficiency program was the structure of the former safety program itself. As Pyles explained, the original safety program had a limited number of Safety Program Managers in FAA Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs) throughout the country, but this was not enough to do what was necessary and more individuals and organizations needed to get involved.

The FAA's safety program initiative, previously known as the Accident Prevention Program and later the Aviation Safety Program, has changed within the last year to the FAA Safety Team, or FAASTeam. "Some people think that this might just be another name change," said Pyles, "but in fact it's not; we're actually trying to change the philosophy and the way we work."

Pyles went on to explain that the aim of the new FAASTeam is to create a group that promotes safety throughout the industry. "We are actually forming a team. The FAA is just part of that team, and we're the organizers." In fact, any person or entity interested in increasing aviation safety is invited to get involved.

Enter Wings 2.0

Announced less than two months ago, this completely revamped proficiency program supercedes the original. The most significant change is that pilots are finally required to demonstrate proficiency in accordance with the Practical Test Standards. In the past, a pilot need only attend a safety seminar and log three hours with a flight instructor, one hour for each of the three areas of flight outlined in Advisory Circular 61-91H.

The new program goes back to the roots of the original concept of Wings by encouraging pilots to participate in recurrent training throughout the year, and gets more personal by guiding a pilot through a customized training syllabus based on the pilot's particular flying habits and geographic location. As an example, a single-engine pilot who flies in mountainous regions will be presented with training options specifically targeted at reducing accidents for that type of flying.

This personalization is accomplished by the use of pilot profiles, which help match the pilot's specific needs to the most useful training resources available. The training resources themselves are developed according to statistical data from accident and incident databases. Pilots still have the opportunity to choose the areas they would like to increase their proficiency in, but they will be guided towards the training that best suits their safety needs.

Unlike the previous Wings program, Internet access is required -- at the very least, participants must have access to email providing a CFI or FAASTeam Representative is able to validate training. According to Pyles, the process is not dissimilar from IACRA, the system used when applying for new certificates and ratings.

Pyles made it clear that pilots participating in Wings can always go back to standard flight reviews if desired and there are no plans for the current flight review process to disappear. Participation, however, is highly encouraged. "Proficiency is going to keep the accident rate down," said Pyles, "and if you are flying with a CFI more frequently, you're probably not going to build bad habits that can't be reversed."

Pilots seem to be listening. While participation in the old program had dropped in recent years, Pyles is optimistic about the new program, saying that after being on-line for just under two months, 8,100 people have already signed up and approximately 100 have completed at least the basic phase.

In the second part of this feature, we'll take a closer look at Wings 2.0 and how it works.

FMI: http://www.faasafety.gov

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