by David Blakney, ATP, CFI, CFI-I

A challenge common to all of us as pilots is maintaining a high level of knowledge and proficiency.  There are a number of options available to the pilot who wishes to sharpen these skills.  Maybe you are not aware of the resources available to you or, perhaps you are concerned about the time it might require.  So, what is a pilot to do?

1.    A great place to start is with your flight instructor.  Simply put, if he or she is not actively engaged in their own plan of continuously improving their skills and knowledge, it is time to consider a new instructor.  While that opinion may not set well with my fellow instructors, it is a fact that pilots engaged in ongoing safety programs or training are far less likely to find themselves in trouble.  There are many wonderful, talented experts in the field of aviation.  My experience in meeting these people is they have something in common….they are constantly improving their own skills and have a passion to share their knowledge with others.

2.   Visit FAASafety.gov and create an account.  The motto here…”Safer Skies through Education”.  The information and courses here are highly valuable and informative.  You will find information on Safety Seminars and a wide variety of items all designed to improve safety in aviation.  Get involved by attending these seminars, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.  You can work the online courses at your pace, save your activity and return when time allows.  Consider joining the FAA Safety Team in your area.  Can’t find one?  Check with your local FSDO and you will find a safety expert there who will likely welcome you with open arms.

3.   Share your expertise.  Do you have a skill or knowledge that you can share with your fellow pilots that can help improve safety?  It need not be a new topic; it could simply be that you present a review of an important issue like preventing runway incursions.  I recently attended a seminar and the room was packed with pilots and those with an interest in aviation.  Imagine now the value as these attendees go back out into the aviation community and spread the word about what they learned.  I personally learned several things that were immediately put to use in future flights.

4.   Make learning fun and interesting.  Maybe it is time to get that additional rating?  Maybe you have always wanted to get a high performance, complex or tail wheel endorsement?  Maybe you have pondered a seaplane rating?  How about spin recovery/unusual attitude recovery training?  Fly a Stearman, T6 or P51…now that would be a thrill!  These are just some ideas, there are many more.

5.   Read a great aviation book or magazine.  There are a variety of publications with numerous articles dealing with safety and practical advice for the pilot.  There are also many great aviation related books.  Some are focused on specific educational areas while others are stories that take the reader on nostalgic journeys in ways that will remind you why you became a pilot.

Here at Sunstate Aviation we incorporate courses into flight reviews and rental checkouts.  We also highlight the benefits of visiting FAASafety.gov and getting involved.  With our pilots in training, we guide them through establishing accounts and getting them started early on the road to being a safe pilot.  It is enormously rewarding as a flight instructor to see them proudly show you their first certificate of course completion. 

The common point in all of this is to get involved.  You can and will make a difference.  If you improve only your skills, or if you get involved in presenting a seminar or topic and reach just one pilot in a crowd, you have made a difference.  We are fortunate to have an incredibly safe aviation system.  Working together, we can make it even better.