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The aviation community is divided into two camps on the issue of flight proficiency: There are those who favor the biennial flight review (BFR), and there are those who favor the WINGS Program. The promotion of the WINGS Program as an alternative to the traditional BFR is the subject of debate amongst aviation circles.
The WINGS Program is an effective means of promoting aviation safety and improving pilot competence, through a system of earning knowledge credits and flight credits. The WINGS Program empowers pilots to strive for excellence in aviation over the long-term, as opposed to a singular biennial check-in.
Is the WINGS Program worth participating in? Why does the FAA even offer the WINGS Program? When comparing the BFR against the WINGS Program, is one necessarily better than the other? What does the WINGS program have to offer when measured against the BFR?
What are the 3 ways to meet the FAA requirement for flight proficiency?
When it comes to flight proficiency, the FAA offers multiple pathways to achieve this goal:
- The biennial flight review.
- Obtaining another flight rating through passing another checkride.
- Earning credits through the WINGS Program.
The first two on the aforementioned list are the most common:
- The biennial flight review is literally, as the name implies, a review that takes place between you and a flight instructor, once in every 24 calendar months.
- You can skip the biennial flight review altogether, if you pass another check ride during that 24-month period. For example, if you earn an Instrument Rating or a Commercial Rating within the 24 months time frame after your previous biennial flight review, then you will be exempt from having to undergo another one. The clock will be reset for another 24 months.
For detailed information regarding the the requirements biennial flight review, checkout the official Federal Aviation Regulations that enumerate how it must be conducted.
The third alternative to maintaining flight proficiency, which is the WINGS Program, also follows a 24-month cycle with its own expiration date. However, it follows a different approach than the previous two.
How does the WINGS Program work?
The WINGS Program allows you to earn credits for both knowledge training as well as practical flight activities.
The knowledge training can be in the form of live in-person seminars, in the form of online webinars, or even self-paced online courses.
The practical flight activities include a myriad of pre-approved dual instruction flight exercises that either demonstrate your proficiency or which allow you to push the envelope and hone your skills with something new.
Furthermore, once you have completed the first phase of the WINGS Program, you can pursue more credits, by taking more advanced knowledge credits and performing more advanced flight activities with an instructor.
How many WINGS Credits do I need?
In order to complete one phase of the WINGS Program, you will need a total of 6 credits.
The 6 credits are divided as follows:
|Level 1 Knowledge Course / Seminar / Webinar||1 Credit|
|Level 2 Knowledge Course / Seminar / Webinar||1 Credit|
|Level 3 Knowledge Course / Seminar / Webinar||1 Credit|
|Level 1 Flight Activity||1 Credit|
|Level 2 Flight Activity||1 Credit|
|Level 3 Flight Activity||1 Credit|
You must earn 3 knowledge credits and 3 flight activity credits within a 12-month period, in order to successfully complete one phase of the WINGS Program.
How many phases are in the WINGS Program?
There are currently 3 phases, or levels, of the WINGS Program, each one progressively more advanced, gearing toward instrument and commercial aviation, whereas the first phase is more focused on general aviation.
These phases are, aptly, referred to Basic, Advanced, and Master.
|Wings Phase / Level||Intended Audience|
|Basic||General aviation / Private Pilots|
|Advanced||Instrument Pilots / Complex Aircraft Pilots|
|Master||Commercial Pilots / Flight Instructors|
Once you have successfully completed one credit of the WINGS Program, that credit is valid for one year before it expires again.
Is continuous learning through the WINGS Program better?
Unlike the BFR, which is a singular event, where you meet with an instructor for two hours (one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight), once in every 24 months, the WINGS Program offers more of a “continuous education” approach.
Because WINGS credits automatically after every 12 months, and WINGS credits can be earned any time all year round, it is not uncommon for pilots to be taking online courses or attending seminars, or meeting with an instructor multiple times a year, spread out throughout the year.
For example, you can earn your 3 knowledge credits spread out throughout the year, one credit per month. Or you can bunch them all together and earn all 3 credits in one month. The choice is yours. The WINGS Program offers you that level of flexibility.
This flexibility also extends to the flight activities as well. Your 3 credits of flight could be either combined into a singular flight, or they could be spread out across 3 or even more flights, all spaced out throughout the year.
If you do spread it out, then your credits will expire on a “rolling basis”, so you will find the need to enroll in more courses or pursue additional flight activities, in order to maintain your WINGS currency, and by extension, be able to satisfy your BFR requirements.
Studies have shown that more frequent engagement with an instructor and more frequent learning produces safer and more competent pilots, thereby increasing the overall safety of the general aviation and commercial aviation systems on the whole.
Indeed, the WINGS program is intended to serve as an alternative to the traditional BFR, for the benefit of those pilots who would prefer a recurrent training program, that yields the net result of greater proficiency than that which could be afforded by merely checking via a flight review once every 2 years.
Do the disadvantages of WINGS outweigh the benefits?
The very benefits of the WINGS Program could just as easily be dismissed as its drawbacks or disadvantages.
Busy pilots who are pressed for time, who already fly frequently, may find that it is much simpler to book a two-hour flight review with an instructor and thus “get it over with”. In contrast, the WINGS Program could potentially require 3 hours of ground education every 12 months, and anywhere from 1 to 3 hours of flight instruction per year.
They may also do the math and come to the conclusion that the cost savings of not having to hire an instructor for potentially more than one hour of dual instruction flight review per year, justify opting for the BFR instead of WINGS.
Furthermore, the topics covered in the BFR may typically resemble those of a general checkride.
The ground review with the instructor may contain topics and be conducted in a format similar to that of the oral exam portion of a checkride. The topics covered can be all-inclusive of all of the essential knowledge that pilots need to know, about airport operations, airspace, weather, traffic patterns, cross country planning, and the like.
The flight review may cover all of the fundamentals in terms of basic maneuvers, also similar to that which might be covered during a typical checkride, such as stalls, steep turns, slow flight, forward slips and side slides, emergency procedures, the different types of takeoffs and landings, and so on and so forth.
The WINGS Program offers pilots a diversity of enrichment knowledge topics and a variety of unique flight activities, whereas the BFR typically will stick to the basic fundamentals. The former may lend itself to not necessarily covering the basics, as it is assumed that pilots who enroll in the WINGS Program are seeking to go above and beyond in terms of safety and competency.
|Biennial Flight Review||WINGS Program|
|Only one 1.0 hour flight required with an instructor every 24 months, covering a broad spectrum of flight maneuvers.||One or more flights with an instructor, with no required minimum duration required, within the previous 12 months, that cover 3 specific areas of flight proficiency.|
|Only one 1.0 hour ground review session required with an instructor every 24 months, covering a broad spectrum of flight knowledge topics.||A combination of at least 3 knowledge sessions, which could be any from a diverse selection of topics, in the form of self-paced online courses, live webinars, or live in-person seminars, in the previous 12 months.|
|Focuses on reviewing what you already know.||Allows you to cover topics and skills that broaden your knowledge and flight experience.|
Less Is More with the Biennial Flight Review
For pilots who don’t fly frequently or pilots who prefer a “back to the basics” approach, the BFR might be more suitable for them.
When it comes to the frequency of touchpoints with an instructor or with ground-based instruction, be it through an in-person seminar, a live online seminar, or a self-paced online course, the WINGS Program affords pilots the opportunity to stay active and engaged in the learning process, which is conducive to a “growth mindset”.
The traditional Biennial Flight Review, on the other hand, is more in-line with a “less is more” approach. It calls for less frequent touchpoints with an instructor (only one every two years, to be precise). But that one touchpoint will be fully comprehensive, and is intended to set you on the path of success by reviewing what you already know. It doesn’t necessarily lend itself to expanding your knowledge or your experience. The BFR lends itself to reinforcing what you already know. It is also possible to fail the BFR, as we have explained in this resource on how the BFR works.
Are Advanced Certificates Viable As WINGS Alternatives?
The other way around the BFR is to put in the time, money, and effort toward pursuing your next level of flight certificate or endorsement. For example, if you have a private pilot license, you can earn an instrument rating within 24 calendar months, meeting the 24 calendar month proficiency requirement, and thus be exempt from the actual BFR or even from the WINGS Program.
Can Earning WINGS Save You Money on Aviation Insurance?
One of the fringe benefits of completing entire phases of the WINGS Program is that many aviation insurance companies will offer you a discount on your premiums, as an incentive for striving to be a safer pilot. This includes aircraft renters’ insurance as well as owners’ insurance, and possibly even aviation disability or life insurance.
This is because the insurance industry sees you as less of a risk as compared to a fellow pilot who has not participated in the WINGS Program, being that you are statistically less likely to get into an aviation mishap and are a safer and more competent pilot.
How does a pilot request WINGS credit?
Pilots can request WINGS credit by logging onto the FAASafety website, which is the official website of the WINGS Program. From there, you will click on the menu option for Activities. From there, you can search for the specific activity that you performed with your instructor, for which you would like to request WINGS credit from them. See the screenshot below for an example.
Once you select the Request Credit option, it will prompt you to look up your flight instructor by name, by email address, or by location. Once you locate your instructor, the system will send them a notification, asking them to verify and endorse your WINGS credit request. This is the electronic equivalent of an instructor’s logbook endorsement, for this particular flight activity.
If your flight instructor cannot be found, then contact them and ask them to create an account on the FAASafety website and follow the instructions for flight instructors on how to validate flight activities that are submitted by pilots.
Is The WINGS Program Free?
Perhaps one of the most downplayed, underappreciated, and overlooked benefits of the WINGS Program is that its knowledge courses, its webinars, and its live in-person seminars are all 100% completely free for pilots to attend. There are no enrollment fees whatsoever. It is entirely self-funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.
(The flight activities are of course not free, by the virtue of the fact that you must pay for the instructor’s time and for the rental of the aircraft.)
This itself is of tremendous value to pilots seeking to better themselves. Not bad, for an entirely optional program!
Can a student pilot get WINGS credit?
The WINGS Program is intended for anyone with a valid pilot license issued in the United States of America.
Student pilots who have not yet earned their pilots license are welcome to and are encouraged to participate in the WINGS Program. They can earn credits for the knowledge courses and flight activities.
However, they will not be officially eligible to earn their Phase 1 Basic Level wings until they pass the private pilot checkride and thus earn their pilot license.
Where are the requirements of the WINGS Program available?
The official website of the FAA WINGS Program is https://www.faasafety.gov. It is free to sign up.
All knowledge courses can be accessed through this website. All credits and endorsements are tracked and maintained online here as well.
The website itself offers a comprehensive guide to how the WINGS Program works, which explains everything you need to know.