What is a Flight Review?

In order to continue flying a pilot must stay current. This means keeping up with the medical requirements and doing some takeoffs and landings so that passengers may be carried. But the biggest part of staying current is the Biennial Flight Review.

This review must be conducted every two years. Specifically, it runs by calendar months, so if you had a flight review on July 15th, 2018, then it will expire on July 31st, 2020.

The review requires a minimum of 1 hour of flight training and one hour of ground instruction.

The ground instruction often takes the form of an oral exam, with the instructor asking questions and the pilot answering. However, this is not ideal, because the flight review is better when you don’t think about it like a test. Instead, the instructor should look for areas of deficiency and give instruction in these areas.

The 1-hour requirement is a minimum and it is not uncommon for the ground portion to take much longer. Embrace your flight review as a chance to learn things that you may have forgotten and don’t be nervous.

The flight portion will also usually take more than 1 hour and should be a fairly intensive review of just about everything. The instructor will often find ways to combine several tasks and evaluate your progress as you go along. The best flight reviews have a lot of scenarios in them and almost always involve a cross-country with an open-ended diversion.

An instructor should ask you about the kind of flying you do at the beginning of the review and use your answer to guide the scenarios chosen. I always ask this question and assume that they will be more proficient in the kind of flying they are used to. So I create a scenario that incorporates the way they fly, but still puts them in a situation that they wouldn’t normally encounter.

This is often simple to do. For example, if someone tells me that they usually fly long distances with GPS and autopilot… I hand them a total electrical failure and spend some time helping them remember how to use a paper map while hand flying the plane. I want them to feel very uncomfortable at the beginning of the scenario, and then feel great because they remember it all by the end.

The flight review is not meant to be easy. You are paying the instructor to find your flaws and force you to improve upon them!

Topic Areas

The flight review requires a review of the general operating and flight rules of part 91 and a review of the maneuvers and procedures that are necessary for the pilot to demonstrate safety. This means that it is mostly left to the discretion of the instructor.

In general, most instructors will give a similar flight review, as far as the format and topic areas go.

Expect to plan a trip, handle a diversion, do some steep turns and stalls, handle simulated emergencies, and  show off your landing skills a little bit.

Can you fail the flight review?

Yes, and no.

The flight review is not a rubber stamp, and you won’t be able to find a CFI who will sign you off no matter what you do.

You need to be open to learning and improving in your weak areas because every single flight review includes the discovery of something to improve upon.

But if the review just isn’t going well and you are having on off day your CFI may decide that you haven’t satisfactorily completed the review.

Remember that we don’t take endorsements lightly. Your actions as a pilot after the flight review can have serious repercussions so we need to know that we are signing off qualified pilots.

If you did “fail” the review, your CFI should NOT write that in your log book! Instead, your log book should just show ordinary training time.

Then, the CFI you are flying with should schedule another time to do some more training leading ultimately to a flight review.


There are a few exceptions that allow you to skip the flight review or some portion of it, generally because you are already in training.


According to FAR 61.56 (d), a pilot proficiency check or practical test conducted by an examiner is sufficient to fulfill the flight review requirement.

The Wings Program

61.56 (e) states that you don’t need the flight review if you have accomplished one or more phases of an FAA-sponsored pilot proficiency program.

For more information about this, check out:

There are a few other exceptions for student pilots and CFI’s taking a CFI renewal course. For the full set of requirements and exceptions take a look at FAR 61.56.