Instructor Refresher Courses Improve Flight Safety… and Renew your Rating

by Michael Schuster, Principal Consultant, Aviation Solutions

 As of June 2010, there were over 3,000 Canadian flight instructor ratings in force1. As with instrument ratings and pilot proficiency checks (PPCs), the instructor rating is not valid forever and must be renewed. The flight instructor rating is based on a class system ranging from Class 4 to Class 1, with additional privileges granted to each successive class as instructors gain more experience and additional qualifications.

Many instructors elect to renew their ratings by undergoing a flight test, but there are, in fact, several different options for renewing an instructor rating. According to CAR 421.66, one way to renew an instructor rating is to attend a Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC). Many instructors are unfamiliar with, or reluctant to use, this method of renewal, so let’s take a look at what a FIRC is.

The FIRC originally began in 1951 as a Transport Canada (TC) initiative. Over the years, the program underwent several changes until its conclusion in 2007. TC then granted the flight training industry authority to conduct its own courses under General Aviation Advisory Circular (GAAC) 421-001.

As the GAAC points out, “The safety of flying in Canada depends on the competence of the pilots and the system that supports them. The competence of pilots depends in turn on the quality of the training system that produces them.”2

The instructor community needs to ask the following question: how well do we continue to develop instructors after their initial training? In many cases, a licensed pilot completes the instructor rating with one or  two Class 1 instructors and often works at the same location once rated. This means limited exposure for many flight instructors. In other words, after a year or two of teaching, the rate of acquiring new knowledge and improving instructional skill plateaus; any gaps in knowledge or bad habits that have developed may remain uncorrected for years.

In addition to renewing an instructor rating, the FIRC is an outstanding avenue for professional development, which addresses the above issues. FIRCs bring together instructors from all over the country, with course sizes ranging from six to thirty participants. Throughout the course, every instructor benefits from learning the techniques, ideas, safety systems and operational considerations that are brought by others. The varied backgrounds and experience levels of those in attendance contribute to a sharing of knowledge, and the development of a support network amongst instructors. Instructors can then take what they’ve learned back to their own Flight Training Units (FTU) to share with colleagues and improve operations.

The theme of best practices is central to the content that is prepared for the refresher courses. Attendees have a chance to participate in lectures, small and large group discussions and exercises, role-playing, scenario analysis, and preparing their own presentations. The courses are quite interactive and not designed to be a one-way flow of information.


Instructors practicing good pre-flight briefing techniques during a role-playing exercise.

Course material focuses on new skills and knowledge. For instance, many instructors have been asked by an aircraft owner to teach them IFR on their private aircraft, only to find out that the aircraft is equipped with an integrated flight deck or “glass cockpit”. The instructor may have never been given any guidance during initial training on how to “teach glass”. As the National Transportation Safety Board has stated, “single engine aircraft with glass have no better overall safety record than traditional aircraft, but do have a higher fatal accident rate”3. The goal of the refresher course is to review to a certain extent, but more so to give instructors new knowledge and skills.

The FIRC modules are led by experienced flight instructors, pilot examiners and industry experts. For instance, during presentations on airspace/ADS-B/RNAV, NAV CANADA may send a controller to participate, TC may provide a presenter to discuss the implementation of SMS at FTUs, and so on.

Every course has its own unique set of topics and more information is available from the course providers’ websites. Some common topics include: instructor supervision, operational control, flight-testing weak areas, and scenario-based training. The theme through all of the modules is how instructors can not only improve the quality of their work, but also the level of safety—for their students, themselves, and for the aviation industry as a whole. Applicable real-world content is integrated throughout, to keep the lessons both relevant and current.

The topic of Human Factors, for example, may look at the training of English as a Second Language students. What are the statistics surrounding their safety record? What practices have been shown to improve safety in this environment? What instructional techniques are most effective? Though these topics may sound daunting at first, the courses are designed for all levels of instructors, including Class 4. The courses are also ideal for instructors not actively working in the field who wish to retain their ratings, by keeping up-to-date on the latest changes, trends and innovations in flight training.

TC has laid out comprehensive guidelines for becoming an authorized FIRC provider. Like all other operators, their documents and training programs are reviewed and courses are audited. There are presently several approved course providers running courses throughout the country.4

Flight instruction is an important part of the aviation industry and flight instructors are professionals who should be constantly improving. Instead of simply displaying your current abilities during a flight test, strive to improve your knowledge and skills. The next time you have a renewal coming up, you may want to consider attending one of these professional development courses. They are one of the best ways to advance both the quality and level of safety in Canadian flight training.

Michael Schuster is an ATP Class 1 Instructor and authorized FIRC course provider. For more information visit or email —Ed

2 General Aviation Advisory Circular 421-001, June 2010
3 Aviation International News, April 2010

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