How often must new pilots fly to stay proficient?
My buddy Gary just wrote with a great question. He’d been chatting with another friend, Yaron, who is taking flying lessons, and the two were discussing how many hours per month a new pilot should fly to remain proficient. Yaron figured six hours per year would be enough, while Gary was thinking more in terms of six hours per month.
At three landings per 90 days, the regs hardly require enough continuing flight experience to stay sharp. Competence can be measured at different levels, but in my mind a minimum of 2-3 flights per month are desirable to maintain basic piloting skills, particularly for those new to the game. That being said, frequency is probably more important than hours. For those on a tight budget I’d rather see two or three 45-minute flights a month in the traffic pattern, than a single 3-hour cross-country with only two landings.
One thing that always intrigues me about such questions (and they are very common) is why anyone who has invested all the time, money, and passion into becoming a pilot wouldn’t automatically want to fly a few times a month. Otherwise why learn? I suspect it’s due to budgetary concerns, which brings me to a final point. Pilots-in-training like Yaron are accustomed to making a big investment every flight, because they’re paying for the airplane and usually an instructor every time themselves. But flying once you’re licensed needn’t be nearly that expensive.
The regs of course allow expense-sharing with passengers, and more pilots should take advantage of that as an alternative to flying infrequently. Rather than flying around the neighborhood alone once a month, invite two friends to share costs and make three flights for the same investment. $100 might sound expensive, but who can’t come up with $35 for an airplane ride?
Going somewhere makes it even more palatable. Instead of flying around Phoenix for proficiency, head for Las Vegas. Better yet, make the trip with two couples and… well, does $120 apiece sound reasonable for a day in Vegas? Again, those taking lessons tend to think in terms of “flying costs $100 per hour.” But going somewhere in that hour changes the picture considerably. Invite someone along to share the cost, and it becomes more reasonable yet. The bottom line for staying proficient while controlling your flying budget? Fly smarter, rather than less often.
I suspect others have opinions and suggestions on this, so please chime in!
©2011 Gregory N. Brown