Can You Fail A Biennial Flight Review?

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Original publication date: February 20, 2023
Last Updated: February 9, 2024
Author: Max Skyler
Topic: Proficiency
Number of Comments: 0

The biennial flight review can be a veritable cause of trepidation for many pilots. This is particularly the case for those pilots who haven’t flown in a while and who might be a tad bit rusty with respect to both their knowledge and with respect to their practical experience in the cockpit. If this describes you, and you feel that you could use a bit of a refresher going into your upcoming biennial flight review, then you should know that with a bit of preparation, you will find that regardless of the outcome, you will come out of it a better pilot.

Failing a biennial flight review is inevitable if you fail to demonstrate to your instructor that you are able to competently and safely operate the aircraft as pilot in command in all phases of flight, and if you are unable to demonstrate a proper command of FAA-mandated aeronautical knowledge.

Adopting a growth-mindset is integral to setting yourself up for success during your biennial flight review (BFR). For those who fly frequently, the BFR may be a cakewalk. However, for those who fly once in a blue moon, or who haven’t flown for a long period of time, it can be a daunting challenge. Proper planning and preparation, coupled with showing up to your BFR relaxed and with a positive attitude, are all the key dispositions that comprise the powerful launchpad that will put you on a trajectory toward becoming a better, more competent, more confident, and more proficient pilot.

Who needs a biennial flight review?

There is a proverb in aviation lore that someone once said, that your private pilot license is a “license to learn”. While it is not known who coined this phrase, this couldn’t be more true.

Learning never stops. Just because you earn your wings as a pilot does not mean that you know all there is to know about aviation. You learn by doing. You learn by experience. You learn with each and every takeoff and each and every landing.

Think of the BFR as a form of “continuing education”. It is an opportunity to work one-on-one with a flight instructor to review and refresh your knowledge of everything you need to know in order to continue to fly safely. It is also an opportunity to build upon everything you already know, in order to help position you to become an even better and safer pilot.

That is why the FAA has made the BFR a requirement for all pilots. Whether you are a novice, low-time private pilot, a general aviation enthusiast, an instrument pilot, a commercial pilot, or an airline captain, all pilots must meet the requirements for a BFR once in every 24 calendar months.

How do you pass a biennial flight review?

The BFR itself is essentially a two-hour minimum commitment, although it represents the sum total of your entire aviation experience leading up to the actual BFR itself.

  • One hour is a one-on-one classroom based dialogue with your flight instructor.
  • The second hour is an instructional flight. While you are legally allowed to log this flight in your logbook as PIC (pilot-in-command), your instructor must also endorse the flight, which you must also log as a dual-instruction hour.

It is entirely possible that you could go over one hour, for each phase of the BFR. But one hour for ground-based instruction and one hour for flight instruction are the minimum requirements.

Putting it succinctly, passing the BFR simply means that you were able to satisfactorily complete both portions of the session:

  • For the ground-based session, you were able to answer the questions put forth by the instructor, or be able to comprehend and grasp any remedial topics that you needed a refresher on.
  • For the flight session, you were able to satisfactorily perform all maneuvers your flight instructor prompted you to perform, such as takeoffs, steep turns, slow flight, stalls, simulated emergencies, navigation, communications, and of course landing.

It is essentially akin to a checkride, but not necessarily as rigid.

How do you fail a biennial flight review?

You would fail a biennial flight review if you are unable to instill confidence in your instructor that you have a good command of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs), are unable to exercise sound judgment when it comes to aeronautical decision making, or if you are unable to safely operate an aircraft and complete all requested maneuvers reasonably within the Practical Test Standards (PTS).

Some would argue that the biennial flight review isn’t a “pass or fail” test. And they would be right. It is not on par with a “checkride” in the sense that you aren’t vying to acquire a new license or a new privilege.

As the name implies, a biennial flight review is intended to be just that: a review. It is intended to be an opportunity for pilots to review their knowledge and brush up on their skills. Considering that public safety is on the forefront of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) priorities, it is befitting that this agency has made it mandatory for all pilots to undergo this flight review, once in every 24 months. This is to prevent your aviation skills from getting rusty.

Having said that, although it is billed as a “review”, it is in fact, possible for you to fail it, if you fail to perform at the level of competence that, let’s say you might have had on the day of your private pilot checkride.

What happens if you fail a biennial flight review?

A common misconception that some pilots may have is that failing a biennial flight review equates to the temporary suspension of your pilot’s license. What is true is that if you fail to successfully earn your flight instructor’s endorsement for the satisfactory completion of a BFR in time for the 24 calendar-month expiration, you will no longer be allowed to fly solo in an aircraft or as pilot-in-command as the sole manipulator of the controls.

You will however, still be allowed to fly, as long as you have another pilot whose own BFR is in good standing. In this case, it would be a dual flight, wherein you are not the sole manipulator of the controls, and thus not the pilot-in-command.

Your pilot’s license is never suspended or revoked for allowing a BFR to lapses or for failing to pass a BFR. You just have limited use of your pilot license wherein you cannot fly solo or as pilot-in-command.

What should you do if you fail a biennial flight review?

If your instructor has deemed that he is not ready to sign you off for your BFR, they will make it clear to you what areas of weakness he found, that they feel that you need further review or further practice in.

Based on that, your instructor may recommend one of the following courses of action:

  • Schedule another BFR, during which only your areas of weakness will be covered. 

Any follow-up BFR sections need not be another 1 hour of ground review and 1 hour of flight review. Those minimums would have already been met on your original BFR. The subsequent sections can be as long or as short as needed.

  • Watch specific YouTube videos or read specific resources as a refresher to help you re-familiarize yourself with those concepts / those areas where you need further review on.

The bottom line is: Don’t be discouraged. You can always reschedule additional instructional BFR flights. BFRs can be instructional. The biennial flight review is not a checkride. It is not a test. It is a review, after all.

Can I get a second opinion from another flight instructor?

When it comes to education, there is no denying the fact that the rapport between the instructor and the student can prove to be a significant contributing factor to the student’s success. It is not unheard of that a student pilot may not find the instructor’s teaching or coaching methods to work well to effectively train them. Being that flight instruction is essentially a one-on-one teacher-student relationship, it is important that the student work with an instructor whom they can relate to, who communicates effectively, and in a manner that the two of them are able to establish that rapport or connection that is essential for success.

If you find yourself struggling through your biennial flight review and you fail to get an endorsement from the instructor, then there is nothing in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that precludes you from scheduling a second attempt at the BFR, with a different instructor. You are not beholden to the first instructor you had been paired with for your first attempt at the BFR.

Perhaps you may fare better on your second attempt, by going with another instructor.

What happens in the ground portion?

One hour is a one-on-one classroom based dialogue with your flight instructor. During this one hour, your flight instructor will engage in a conversation with you to assess and gauge your knowledge of a broad swath of FAA rules and regulations and policies and procedures. They may also challenge you to provide answers to scenario-based questions. They may also challenge you to demonstrate the methodology you use with respect to cross-country flight planning. 

If you are a private pilot, the questions asked of you will be limited to your private pilot license. If you are an instrument-rated pilot the questions asked of you may also include those that encompass IFR knowledge and instrument-specific scenarios.

Likewise, if you are a commercial pilot, the discussion will be based around your breadth of experience in commercial aviation.

What happens in the flight portion?

The second hour of your BFR is the actual practical flight review. During this one hour, your instructor will ask you to perform a series of standard maneuvers. There is no fixed list of predefined maneuvers you must perform. It is entirely at the instructor’s discretion, with the goal simply being to gauge your competence and proficiency as a pilot.

The maneuvers could include anything from the same set that you would have performed during your checkride, such as, but not limited to: 

  • Different types of takeoffs and landings (short field, soft field, standard)
  • Stalls (power on and power off)
  • Steep turns
  • Slow flight
  • Side slips or forward slips
  • Simulated engine out emergency landings
  • VOR navigation

What happens if your BFR lapses?

If you fail to successfully complete a biennial flight review before it expires, then you are no longer legal to fly solo or as pilot-in-command. However, to regain legal compliance, all you need to do is complete the BFR at any time, then you will be legal to fly solo as pilot-in-command again.

For example, if your BFR expires on March 31st and you haven’t successfully completed it, then from April 1st onwards, you are no longer legally allowed to fly solo or as pilot-in-command. Your next flight after April 1st must be either accompanied by another pilot who assumes the role of pilot-in-command or must be a BFR. Only once you pass the BFR, will you become legal to fly solo or as pilot-in-command after that.

If you were to complete your BFR on April 15th, then it would expire at the end of 24 calendar months later, on April 30th, not on March 31st. The date of your next BFR is always adjusted to be the end of 24 calendar months from your previous one, regardless of what date you take it.

Can you earn another rating as an alternative to a BFR?

The FARs stipulate that you do not have to complete a BFR if you earn another flight rating within 24 months from the date of your previous BFR or from the date you earned your previous flight rating.

For example, if you earned your private pilot license on April 25th, 2023, then your BFR would be due no later than April 30th, 2025.

However, if you earn another rating (such as an instrument rating, commercial rating, for example) anytime before April 30th, 2025, it would satisfy the requirements of a BFR, and the 24-month clock restarts from the date you earn that rating. So if you earn your Instrument Rating on September 10th, 2024, then your next BFR would be due by September 30th, 2026, no longer on the original date.

Can the WINGS Program substitute for the BFR?

The FAA recently introduced the WINGS Program as an alternative to the biennial flight review. Similar to the BFR, if you complete a phase of the WINGS program within 24 calendar months from your previous BFR, previous rating, or the completion of a previous phase of WINGS, then this satisfies the requirements of the BFR. If you are interested in learning more about the WINGS program, we have published a resource to help you learn how it works, and how it compares to the BFR.

Max Skyler

Max Skyler is a Private Pilot with nearly 200 hours of total flight time under his belt. He is a freelance writer for Flying is not his day job. (He's into computers.) But flying is among his passions and hobbies. He just passed his instrument ground school course, and is getting ready to take the IFR written exam as we speak, in early January 2024! He hopes to earn his instrument writing within a year. We've brought him onto our team to share his insights on all-things general aviation, with our community of readers. Let's wish him good luck on his instrument written exam!

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