Select Page

Among aviation professionals, there is often fervent discussion about the distinct difference between proficiency and currency. Currency is a more legalistic term that indicates that you have met the requirements of the regulations in a purely perfunctory way. While currency is the definition of legal recency, currency indicates the bare minimum of recent experience. Proficiency, on the other hand, indicates a higher level of skill and professionalism. It is not surprising then that the FAA Safety Team also called FAASTeam, created and structured the FAA WINGS program differently.  The FAA and other industry groups have recognized that a procrastination pitfall exists with currency regulations. People tend to wait until the last minute to renew currency.  Whether in terms of landings, night currency, instrument currency, or other metrics, life can interfere, and people tend to delay.  Aaron Burr’s famous maxim, “never do today what you can put off till tomorrow,” may be sage advice in some scenarios, but that approach creates rusty pilots.

Enter the FAA WINGS Program.

It’s not surprising that on the home screen of this program the word “proficiency” is mentioned no less than seven times. While this program is not compulsory, it does create a rolling training structure that lends itself to consistent proficiency. Here’s how it works: there are three levels of the FAA wings program: Basic, Advanced, and Master. To earn a phase in the WINGS Program, you must complete some flight activities and some ground activities. The flight activities can consist of flight training programs from specific vendors, or they can be more generic for students to accomplish with any Part 61 instructor.  Ground activities can take the form of seminars, structured ground school, online webinars and other formats.  The key ingredient that lends itself to continuous proficiency is this: once you initiate a phase, you have one year to complete the activities to conclude it.  For a phase that requires three ground activities and three flight activities, that means you must do something for your training every 3 to 4 months on average. Compared to the rusty pilot who waits until the two-year mark to conduct his or her flight review, this approach is superior.

These are just the surface level benefits of the FAA WINGS Program. Let’s dig in a little bit deeper and see why we might want to participate in this program.

Every WINGS phase qualifies for a Flight Review

A huge benefit of participating in the FAA WINGS Program is that completion of any phase suffices for a Flight Review.  Previously called a Biennial Flight Review or BFR, completing a phase of the WINGS Program specifically meets the requirements of FAR 61.56.  You can translate different training events into a Flight Review through the WINGS program. Especially if you accomplish a lot of training that doesn’t expressly meet the requirements of 61.56, the WINGS program can be helpful. Also, there is a benefit for the professional pilot, as well. Though your recurrent training technically meets the requirements for 61.56(d), understanding that reg requires a bit of interpretation. If you want to go rent an airplane at your local flight school, it may be easier just to show that you have a good-old-fashioned Flight Review. Use the WINGS Program to convert your professional training into currency more recognizable in light GA.

You can put it on your resume

Whether your aviation career is new, or your resume feels a little thin, the WINGS program is an easy addition to your CV.  I only advocate putting “Advanced” and “Master” WINGS phases on your resume. The word “basic” doesn’t do you any favors.

By definition, the WINGS Program shows a prospective employer that you do more than the minimum.  Granted, this may not be a major accomplishment, but it shows that you are safety-minded and curious.  During an interview, use this bullet point as a springboard to discuss some interesting training or a seminar you attended to complete a WINGS phase.

Use it for job-related goal-setting

Increasingly, flight departments are utilizing performance and goal-setting programs like the rest of the corporate world. Often at the behest of the parent organization, pilots and mechanics must set both business and professional development goals. Their manager, in turn, uses this information to give them concrete feedback at set intervals throughout the year. Often, this can be a source of frustration to flight departments. I understand; flight departments aren’t normal departments. Therefore, many people feel like these measurement tools are not a good fit. That may be so. Perhaps if you have a lot of peripheral duties, it may make sense to hone your skills in Microsoft Excel. However, some people view these programs as unrealistic tools to measure performance in aviation. After all, if takeoffs equal landings, we are doing pretty good, right?  Well, the FAA WINGS program offers some real professional development in terms of flying knowledge, experience, and skill. Furthermore, it is free. You don’t need to ask your supervisor to pay for an expensive training program. And often, the training required by your flight department will go most of the way towards earning a phase in the WINGS Program.

The “My WINGS” page. Notice the Flight Review tracker on the right side of the page. Also notice the one-year deadline to complete the phase at the bottom.

The real magic happens, however, when you were just shy of reaching a phase. What are you going to do to earn it? Perhaps you decide to take a tailwheel lesson to sharpen your stick and rudder skills. Maybe you can earn your Advanced Ground Instructor Certificate.  Perhaps you can do you the online program to earn your sUAS Remote Pilot Certificate. Maybe you have always dreamed of getting your seaplane rating. If you have committed to completing a phase in the WINGS Program for your work goal, the need to complete this will push you outside your comfort zone.  What are you going to go learn? This, in my opinion, is the true purpose of the WINGS program. Go learn something new!

You can become a FAASTeam member

Safety permeates everything we do in aviation.  If you have been around aviation for a while, you know that safety is reflected in our regulations, policies, cultures, and hardware. Most everyone is safety-minded to some degree. However, you may also have noticed that certain individuals are fanatical about safety. We need these safety champions among us to lead the way. If you are one of these individuals, consider becoming an FAASTeam Representative. FAASTeam Reps, regardless of title, station, or certification, foster in attitude of safety in the aviation community. Per the FAA website, A FAASTeam Member is “anyone who makes a conscious effort to promote aviation safety and become part of the shift in safety culture.” In addition to attending live events and webinars, the main criterion for being a FAASTeam representative is participation in the WINGS Program.  The FAASTeam is the educational arm of the FAA, and the WINGS Program is the essential education tool they use. If you’re going to be involved with educating others about safety, you have to use the tools yourself. Go to the FAA WINGS website and sign up today. Know that you can receive credit for activities completed within the last 12 months, so go ahead and request credit for your recent activities from an approved WINGS validator. Often, these are CFIs.  Program administrators at some flight schools and Part 142 training centers may also be authorized to validate credit, as well.

Since it isn’t required, some people I have spoken with insinuate that the WINGS Program seems trivial or elementary.  However, tasks include mountain flying courses and earning type ratings, which are decidedly not elementary.  You may or may not be motivated by leveling up to higher phases of the program or receiving the small gold wings in the mail. Either way is fine. People are incentivized in different ways.  However, at the root of this structured program is an attitude of persistent growth and desire to continuously learn, and that quality isn’t trivial at all.

Fly safely and GoEightOh.