Renewing a flight instructor certificate via FAA Wings Program

September 17th, 2013 by Max Trescott

If you’re not a flight instructor but enjoy sharing your love of flying with others, I heartily encourage you to become a CFI. Not only will you become a better pilot in the process, but you’ll find out how much fun it is helping others to learn to fly.

Unlike other pilot certificates and ratings, a CFI rating must be renewed every two years or it goes away. Given the amount of work required to become a CFI, few people want to lose the rating. So every two years, over 90,000 CFIs renew through a variety of ways.

For CFIs who are not actively teaching, the most common way to renew is through a Flight Instructor Renewal Clinic or FIRC. These are typically weekend-long seminars hosted at hotels around the country on a rotating schedule. AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation’s FIRC is among the most popular. After two days of class, CFIs who attend are renewed for two years. Even non-current pilots can attend. I’m currently working with a lapsed pilot who hadn’t flown for 30 years. However, he still has a current CFI rating, since he attended a FIRC every two years!

Online FIRCs are also now available from multiple vendors. They’re less expensive and you can do them at home without traveling to a hotel. I’ve never used one, though I recently heard a CFI complain about the cumbersome nature of one of these courses.

If you actively teach, there are a variety of ways to renew a CFI rating through your local FAA FSDO office. In the past, I’ve renewed my CFI by bringing a list of five or more pilots that I’ve signed off for a checkride in the prior two years. To qualify by this method, at least 80% of the pilots have to have passed their checkride on the first attempt.

This year, I decided to renew by bringing the FSDO a list of five or more pilots for whom I had signed off a total of at least 15 flight elements in the FAA WINGS program.  This is a great alternative for CFIs who are less active, but still give at least two to three Flight Reviews (previously called a BFR) per year. Instead of signing pilots off for a Flight Review, have them sign up at www.faasafety.gov and take online courses for WINGS credit. Then print the lists of tasks they need to perform in the air, fly with them until they can complete the tasks to FAA checkride standards, and endorse their logbook with the FAA WINGS endorsement found in AC 61-65E. You too will need a faasafety.gov account so you can validate each pilot’s request for WINGS credit.

The first step to renew a CFI rating is to go to IACRA.faa.gov and fill out an online 8710-1 form. Then go to the FSDO with your IACRA FTN number, user name, and password. At the FSDO, the FAA inspector signs on to IACRA to find your online application. Then you sign on to IACRA to submit your 8710-1 form. The FAA inspector signs back on again and processes your application.

Renewing a CFI rating is non-trivial and takes some time. But it beats the alternative of failing to renew and having to take the Flight Instructor checkride again!

Max Trescott

Max Trescott specializes in teaching in glass cockpit aircraft. He is best known for his Max Trescott's G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook and Max Trescott's GPS and WAAS Instrument Flying Handbook. He formerly worked for Hewlett-Packard and now is a full-time flight instructor. He is the 2008 National CFI of the Year. Visit Max’s website.

The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • http://www.rapp.org/ Ron Rapp

    I wonder which online course that CFI was complaining about. I’ve been utilizing the Gleim offering and have found it to be fairly quick and efficient.

    • Max Trescott

      Ron, It wasn’t the Gleim or AOPA Air Safety Institute course. I hope more people will post about which courses they do like. Based on the few replies here, it seems Gleim is in the lead.

  • Bay Area Flyer

    The FAA Wings program has got to be one of the most misunderstood and least accepted programs by the CFI community. It is rare to find a CFI that understands it let alone wants to use it as an alternate for doing a flight review for a pilot. The FAA keeps tweaking it to try to make it better. Educating the CFI community about it would be a good investment in time by the FAA.

    • Max Trescott

      Herb, when WINGS moved from a paper-based program to an online program, the work burden shifted from local FAA Safety Managers to CFIs. Many CFIs quickly decided it was taking too much of their time and stopped pushing the WINGS program. I agree, the FAA has done a lot to improve WINGS since they initially moved to an online program. I’m guessing a lot of CFIs haven’t gone back to discover that things have improved.

  • J. A. Reinhardt

    I’ll give an enthusiastic agreement to Mr. Rapp’s comment about the Gleim CFI renewal and flight courses. They are well presented, thought out, and supported with a fine staff. I’ve been a CFII since 1971 and have endured the early mornings and long drives for the various weekenders. Sitting around and having information poured into my thinking for 16 plus hours has never appealed to me. Gleim is concise and allows one to set their own pace.

  • http://AOPA Blue Skies CFI

    Gleim CFI Renewal program is very user friendly. I have been renewing with Gleim for my last 6 renewals and will start number 7 next month. The Wings program started out being “not user friendly”, but has made a lot of improvments over last couple of years. Unfortunatly, once the word is out that people don’t like it, its hard to turn people back to it. The FAA may have a better chance with Wings by renaming the program and repackaging it to pilots.

  • Steven Koeppel

    If insurers recognized Wings participants with reduced rates or requirements, it would be a much more popular program.

  • Nick

    Steven – some insurers do. I have my CFI renter’s insurance through Avemco, and they offer discounts for WINGS participants. WINGS is a great program that is getting better, and I think the CFI renewal through WINGS is a great way to go.

  • Mike Jesch

    There is no longer a requirement to make a separate AC61-65 instructor endorsement when a client completes a Wings Phase. Since the faasafety.gov web site tracks all activities for the pilot, the instructor simply makes his normal instruction given endorsements for each flight activity completed, including the activity number, then validates the credit via faasafety.gov, and voila’! Done. I renewed my CFI some 15 months ago based on Wings credits validated and it was a piece of cake. I recommend you bring along a printed copy of AC61-91J with the pertinent instructions on how to renew a CFI ticket highlighted, along with your activity record, when you renew, just in case it’s the inspector’s first time doing it.

  • Max Trescott

    Mike, you make a good point that a CFI needs to just endorse the pilot’s logbook for each WINGS activity and not for the completion of a phase. AC 61-65E still shows the need for the endorsement for the completion of a phase, while the more up to date Wings Manual at http://www.faasafety.gov/documents/Wings_Manual.pdf just talks about the need to endorse for the activity. I still put in a completion endorsement anyway, just so that it’s obvious to anyone looking at a logbook that the WINGS was completed. I’m glad you also have had success in renewing your CFI this way. For anyone giving WINGS instruction, it’s an easy way to renew.