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Currency v. Proficiency

by Tim Genc

Recently, I was assisting a pilot in preparing for their upcoming interview. In the spirit of covering all of my bases, I asked the pilot if they were proficient; they replied they were, that they had a flight review in the last six months, and that they were instrument current.

Potentially, this means they last touched an aircraft six months ago and did one approach. So, they’re current, but are they proficient? What is the difference?

While it’s possible that both exist together, it is also possible to have one and not the other. Which is more important? Which is harder to address? If someone is proficient but not current, that’s an easier problem to fix than if they’re current, but not proficient.

To best illustrate how currency and proficiency are different, keep the following statements in mind:

·   Proficiency means that you can still fly the plane and perform the duties needed for the job. Currency doesn’t necessarily guarantee that.

·   Proficiency means that you have the skills, currency means that you’ve documented it, or you have a signature in your logbook.

·   Currency will get your résumé past the initial review but, if you’re not proficient, the interview and training will be there to bite you.

The spirit of currency is to have a documented, worst-case scenario and agreed-upon threshold that certifies you are proficient. At its most extreme, currency means that you last flew 23 months ago, or merely entered a hold 6 months ago. Would anyone argue that this means you are equipped to safely and smartly pilot an aircraft? Of course not.

If you are preparing for an interview, you need both. You need to have the documentation that says you are qualified to start this job and the skill set to answer technical questions and complete training. (This is what it means to have your pilot credentials prepared and proficient for the interview, as referenced in our Are You PREPARED for your Aviation Interview? article in the Job-Hunting Pilots section of our website.) If one of those pieces is missing, then you have some explaining to do and the recruiter has to conceptually stop their evaluation process to solve a problem. It’s an objection, it’s a nuisance, it’s a red flag. I’ve interviewed pilots who have confessed their lack of currency and have indicated that they would get current if they got the job offer. I must confess, it has always taken the wind out from beneath my wings, so to speak, and annoyed me a little. If your goal is to land pilot employment, you’re probably not going to stop until you reach your goal, correct? You need to have your flying skills fresh prior to your new hire training, correct? So, wouldn’t it be easier to just take care of these things before the interview? In most of those cases, the technical interviews were a challenge, often resulting in the pilot not receiving an offer. It was a shame, because many of those pilots had great personalities and would be a welcome member to any team but, without proficiency and currency, we were not sure they would make it through their training. We would not find that out until the airline had already invested many thousands of dollars into their education. Financially, it wasn’t a safe decision, and that is what recruiters must ask themselves when they’re hiring a pilot. They’re making a bet – potentially with their own job – that this is a sound candidate who is worth the money and will be a valued part of their pilot team.

Now, I’m not heartless or naïve; I understand that one of the biggest factors that get in the way of keeping up-to-date for a pilot who is not actively flying is the cost of remaining current and proficient. For a pilot that was separated from a company due to furlough or the closure of an airline twelve months ago and is now readying themselves for an upcoming interview with another carrier, currency could mean the cost of renting an aircraft and a CFI. A more cost-effective approach could mean the cost of a simulator/flight training device and a CFI for currency, the latter being unnecessary for proficiency. One of the best, most directly related options would be a refresher program at a high-end simulator/airline training facility, like Flight Safety or CAE. While the education received from these institutions would be the best of the lot, the financial hurdles of this training could possibly be the most prohibitive.

For those rusty professional pilots who need to watch their pennies during their hiatus from aviation, consider the following:

·   In 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was adopted to assist job-seekers and displaced workers in a variety of ways, including providing funding for education and training; this includes initial and recurrent flight training that could make an individual more marketable in the workplace. I have seen students use these resources to add ratings onto a Private or Commercial certificate, get themselves current, and even add a Type Rating to their repertoire. Each state has its own governing body and processes with which to contend but, besides the red tape and litany of paperwork, this program can definitely offset – if not completely cover – the cost of a refresher program or additional flight training.

·   Though the numbers have gone down in the last 30 years, there are still many pilots that are coming into the general aviation industry from the military. Always remember that a veteran’s VA benefits can often be used for this type of training. Although any training labeled as refresher training normally does not qualify for reimbursement, the pursuit of an additional rating or certificate would, and the pursuit of such would get a pilot’s skills back on track.

These are not the only programs available, but they are two of the most accessible to most pilot candidates. Whether separately or together, they can provide the funding needed to get your skills refreshed; they can help you get both current and proficient at the same time.

I’ve heard people say that the least expensive part of owning an aircraft (or boat) is actually buying the vehicle itself; the costs of maintenance and upkeep, storage, fuel along with other compliance-related costs are where the real commitments lie. I would argue that the same exists for having a pilot certificate, and that the cost of maintaining your pilot skills should be budgeted. Having a recurrent/continuing education fund set aside makes as much sense as putting away money every month to cover the cost of an annual inspection. If you find yourself in a situation where your lapse in proficiency has snuck up on you, look into a variety of training options. For example, while it won’t help with currency, a PC-based simulator program can certainly help keep your procedures and flows proficient during your time away from the cockpit. Your materials from systems training should still be in your library; keep your knowledge fresh by reviewing the information presented. And don’t wait until you have a job interview in one week to start considering these options, implement a proficiency program as soon as you can to avoid loss of information from disuse. Remember that the best time to make a plan for your continued proficiency and currency is right after your Commercial or ATP checkride; the second best time is today.

Bio: FAPA.aero