Is WINGS the Answer?

First, I would like to say that I think that the FAA WINGS – Pilot Proficiency Program is a wonderful and valuable resource. It provides educational opportunities for pilots via low priced and free seminars, webinars, and online learning while providing a structure for recurrent ground and flight training that goes well beyond the mandatory flight review which it can replace. The program is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.

A 2011 study entitled Report on the Effectiveness of the WINGS – Pilot Proficiency Program made two observations (with impressive data to back it up):

  • “…pilots who participate in the WINGS Program and earn a phase of WINGS have a very low incidence of accidents.”
  • “…the study shows that pilots who maintain a “current” phase of WINGS have even fewer accidents.”

The problem is that very few pilots participate in this program or any other program of recurrent training!

From the previously mentioned study, as of December 2010, 8,878 out of 627,588 pilots (119,119 of these were student pilots) had earned a phase of WINGS under the revamped program. This is about 1.75% of the rated pilots. That said, there are a lot of pilots that participate in the ground portion but never finish a phase of WINGS.

A question arises in my mind but is not answered by the FAA WINGS study. Does WINGS lower the accident rate or are pilots that tend to complete a phase a WINGS the kind of conscientious pilots that will have a lower accident rate anyway? While I have no hard proof, I suspect that the answer can be found somewhere in the middle in that WINGS provides a path for these conscientious pilots that tend to fly in a safer manner and seek out additional training. The additional training provides an added boost to these already safer pilots.

Same Old Faces

WINGS featureIf you attend very many WINGS seminars in your area, you may start to recognize some of the same old faces. Here at Sporty’s Academy, the WINGS crowd has a lot of familiar faces. Looking around the room, I would estimate that the average age is certainly leaning toward much older pilots.

Pilots from other areas make similar comments.

Where are the other pilots? Do they believe that they know it all already? Are they just too busy to spend time improving their knowledge? Or do we simply have a severe case of pilot apathy?

Where Are the Instructors?

Another group that seems to be poorly represented at WINGS seminars are younger flight instructors. The older guys and gals are often present because they understand and believe in the program.

CFI in cockpit

I can understand it when a flight instructor has spent the entire day teaching, he or she is probably not interested in spending more time at the airport. But what kind of example are we setting for our students? If the instructors don’t show up, the students won’t show up. When the students don’t show up, they aren’t likely to show up once rated either.

Come on instructors, are you in this just for the hours and a paycheck or do you want to produce safe pilots and grow this thing called aviation that we all (or once did) love?

Beyond the example, these instructors are also missing out on a huge opportunity. What better place to meet new clients with a desire to improve than at your local WINGS seminar? Participate! Wear a name tag or a shirt that identifies you as a flight instructor! Start friendly conversations and pass out your business cards!! If a potential client expresses a strong interest, get him or her on your schedule!

Beyond Showing Up for the Camaraderie

Hanging Out at the SeminarIt is likely true that many of the older, familiar faces are there to hang out with their older flying comrades. We certainly don’t want to discourage this as a sense of “community” has been shown to help grow aviation. But the old boy’s and girl’s clubs shouldn’t be the only ones there.

Take some time to engage with these older pilots as some of them can be a wealth of information. Realize that their nostalgic reminiscences of “the good old days” may still have some nuggets of truth and useful information. Just don’t allow yourself to get too worked up about their railing against the increased complexity or the modern conveniences. Times and technology change. Why not give them a hand with learning about some of these new-fangled things?

While you are at the seminar, be a keen observer and an attentive listener. Taking notes about the presentation will help you to get the most out of the time that you are spending.

What Can We Do?

I believe that there will always be a cadre of pilots that just want to get by with the bare minimum. Some of these pilots will one day end up killing themselves and unfortunately, they will take others with them.

Don’t be one of these pilots!

Become one of those conscientious pilots mentioned earlier. Strive to never stop learning. Develop a plan to reach this striving. Follow the plan and improve your skills. If you need help with a plan, talk to your favorite local flight instructor and see if a phase of WINGS will be a worthwhile pursuit.

While you are talking to favorite instructor, ask about adding a rating or two to your certificate. New ratings have a way of adding skills to your current flying that you may not expect.

Is WINGS the answer? I would say that it is definitely a part of the answer but probably not the be all and end all of answers. WINGS and other recurrent training programs only work when we pilots and flight instructors participate.

Get out there and stay current and proficient. Fly safe!!

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Paul Jurgens is the Chief Instructor for Primary and Multiengine courses at Sporty's Academy. He holds a multiengine ATP certificate with a Cessna Citation type rating along with commercial privileges in single-engine land and sea airplanes, gliders, and hot air balloons. Chief Jurgens holds instructor ratings for single & multiengine airplanes, instrument airplanes, & gliders. He also has instructing privileges in hot air balloons by virtue of his commercial certificate.