Consider the following scenario:

“Joe” is 38 Years old. He earned his private pilot license 20 years ago. He then obtained his Instrument rating and commercial pilot license in quick succession. Joe has a family and a full time job. Although he doesn't fly for a living, he still manages to make time to go flying at least once a week.

Over the course of 20 years, Joe has logged over 3,000 hours, flying to every $100 burger-joint imaginable, in addition to the occasional business trips and vacation getaways. Although Joe has an instrument rating, he is a fair-weather pilot and will not fly in bad weather.  His family and friends trust his piloting skills because he has many hours and years of experience.

So far so good right?

Once every 2 years Joe will break out his “BFR pocket guide” and review it the night before his flight review. The following day he'll do 1 hour of ground with a CFI that most likely has a lot less time than he does. Afterwards, they'll both hop in a plane and head out to the practice area. Joe demonstrates a couple of stalls, slow-flight, and soft field landing and any other maneuvers as requested. Upon returning to the airport the CFI signs him off for another 2 years. With 3000 hours and a fresh flight review, Joe is considered to be well above average when compared to other non-career General-Aviation pilots.

As long as Joe stays within his comfort zone, he may likely go on flying for another 20, 30, or 40 years and that would really be fantastic. 

The Question is; if the inevitable emergency arises, will Joe be properly prepared to handle it? Chances are, probably not.

Yes, you could blame the instructor in this case for not following AC 61-98B & 14 CFR 61.56, but Joe is equally at fault for not seeking better training.

Joe’s 3,000 hours of “experience” is a lot more than most non-career pilots would ever hope to log in their lifetime. But the reality is that 3,000 hours of straight and level cross-country flying might help you gain proficiency with your GPS and Autopilot, and it might even help you sound good over the radio, but it certainly does not make you a safe, proficient pilot.

In fact, a freshly minted commercial pilot with just under 300 hours of experience, is more likely to be prepared to handle an emergency, due to his recency of experience. However, if he doesn't continue to practice his skills, he will end up just like Joe in a short period of time.

The same goes for Instrument Practice:

Obtaining an Instrument rating is more difficult and sometimes slightly more expensive than getting the private pilot license. Which is why I am baffled that so many pilots go through the trouble of obtaining their Instrument rating and keeping it current, but never practice their skills in actual IMC.

Flying under the hood and flying in actual IMC are two different animals. In real IMC you can't pull your hood off to take a break when you've had enough; you're in it until you get yourself out of it. Knowing this, some pilots will break into a sweat just talking about flying in inclement weather or low ceilings. And I won't even mention hand flying the plane in IMC, . . . well that's just crazy talk.

The big question is, when are they planning on testing and honing their skills? When returning home from a long business trip? After a long vacation when they have their family on board and are desperate to get home?

If that’s the case, then the pressure of get-there-itis coupled with inexperience and a lack of confidence, is a definite recipe for disaster, and there are countless NTSB accident reports to back this up.

The point I’m trying to make should be abundantly clear by now.

We all fly for different reasons and we all have budgetary constraints comprised of both time and money, but safety is paramount.

My suggestion is for pilots to treat their flying budget like any other budget, and set aside at least 10% solely for practice.

Yeah, I know what your thinking, most people don't save anymore.
Although that's very sad, pilots aren't "most people"
We are a relatively small group, who's lives depend on our own proficiency.

How to get started:

  • Start by hand flying the plane more often and only use the autopilot to reduce your workload when absolutely necessary. 
  • Skip the $100 burger once in a while and just go practice basic maneuvers and emergency procedures.
  • Take your flying buddy, practice together and have that burger locally. 
  • Call your CFI and practice unusual attitudes and emergency procedures.
  • Practice power-off 180's, short approaches, slips, etc.
  • Practice soft field landings on a real grass field. Doing so, will build confidence and remove the mystery, in case the need ever arises.
  • Call your MEI and practice Vmc demo's, and single engine approaches
  • Practice engine out and restarting procedures. (Circle high over an airport)
  • On a good IFR day, call your CFII, file an IFR flight plan, go fly in IMC and shoot some real approaches.
  • Schedule a night flight often and practice emergencies. (Performing 3 Full stop-taxi-backs at night within 90 days only keeps you current, it DOES NOT make you proficient.)
  • If all that other stuff is boring, call your local Aerobatics instructor and take a course in basic Aerobatics or at least go do some spins and upset recovery training. Do something!

Practice! Your life depends on it.

Best regards,
Captain Rick.

Disclaimer: The characters and events depicted in this scenario are entirely fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living, dead or undead, is purely coincidental. (Unless your name is Joe, and you know that I specifically wrote this about you.) 😲

My thoughts regarding practice:

Regardless of the reason for becoming a pilot, you must keep in mind that training does not end upon the issuance of your pilot certificate. We are not computers and begin forgetting everything we learn almost immediately.

Being a pilot is a huge responsibility. As a pilot, you are responsible for every aspect of the flight, including your passenger’s safety as well as for the safety of those on the ground. You just can’t just pull over to the side and click on the hazard lights. When the inevitable happens, you must be able to handle the emergency in a calm and professional manner and land the plane safely.

A pilot that practices emergency procedures on a routine basis, is more likely to be calm, confident, and able to think things clearly when an emergency arises. A confident pilot will produce a much better outcome than a nervous pilot struggling to remember emergency procedures while dealing with workload saturation and the onset of tunnel vision.

How do you get to that level of proficiency?
You get proper training and then practice often!

A little bit about me:

​​​​​​​​​​I am a Freelance Commercial Pilot / Instrument Flight Instructor based in south Florida with over 30 years of flying experience.

I have always been fascinated with Aviation. From the moment I could talk, I  would tell my parents that I wanted to be a pilot. During my teen years, I scrounged every penny I could and sold my most valued possessions in order to take flying lessons.

Even after 30 years of flying, It doesn’t matter whether I’m in a para-glider or a passenger plane, right seat or left seat; As long as I’m airborne, I'm happy, and I truly love sharing my passion and knowledge of Aviation with others. 

What I do:

  • ​Treat my clients/students with utmost professionalism and respect
  • Teach students to Aviate, Navigate and Communicate effectively
  • Teach above and beyond FAA PTS / ACS standards
  • Teach students to fly comfortably in all corners of the flight envelope
  • Prepare students to handle any emergency, safely and calmly
  • Turn students into confident and competent pilots.
  • I help remove the fear and mystery of flying outside the comfort zone
  • Help students achieve their goals as economically as possible
  • Make lessons fun and memorable
  • Practice what I preach

What I don’t do:

  • Criticize, ridicule or talk down to anyone
  • Waste a students time or mine
  • Run up the Hobbs
  • Sign-off on any training that doesn’t meet FAA PTS / ACS standards
  • Quit

What I expect from my students:

  • Trust that I will give them the best training available
  • Trust that I will provide that training safely
  • Take training seriously
  • Study hard
  • Be prepared to learn well beyond the minimum requirements
  • Fly as often as possible
  • Practice
  • Practice (I hope I’m getting the point across)