Could You Pass a Checkride Based on the New Airman Certification Standards?

By Scott Spangler on June 6th, 2016

acsOne of the tried and true tropes of aviation is that, in general, the successful completion of a checkride marks the peak currency and proficiency of a pilot’s knowledge and skills. For those rarely exercised after that point, it is all downhill from there. Based on personal experience, the little used knowledge goes first, and refreshing it isn’t as much fun as practicing seldom-used stick and rudder skills in preparation for an upcoming flight review.

Still, pilots who profess dedication to currency and proficiency should be able to pass a checkride to the minimum requirements of the certificates and ratings they possess. This can be an uncomfortable situation for those of us “mature” aviators who passed their checkrides “back in the day.” (For my private pilot checkride that day was in June, 1976.) A lot has changed since then, and to assess how I’d fare as an applicant for a private pilot certificate today, I dove into the FAA’s new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) , which this month replace the Practical Test Standards.

My initial examination provided a kernel of relief. In replacing the Practical Test Standards, the new ACS does not change the “skill performance metrics” or the flight portion of the checkride. The knowledge probed by the oral half of the checkride is another matter. The ACS integrates the specific elements of aeronautical knowledge, decision making, and risk management required for each area of operation or task. This does not, says the FAA, increase the oral or flight segments of the checkride, but it will surely refine the focus on its individual elements.

From an educator’s point of view (and they were deeply involved in creating the ACS), this integration clearly and efficiently serves students, instructors, and those who evaluate applicants who must employ the contribution of each element to safely conduct their current and future flights. Each element has a unique code, and when the system is fully online, students’ individual strengths and deficiencies will follow them from the computerized knowledge test they must successfully complete before their checkrides.

CaptureWith this more refined knowledge, instructors can more efficiently and effectively remediate student deficiencies, and those examiners can more precisely evaluate the effectiveness of that effort. But that does little for those of us already certificated, even though most of us could benefit from what applicants must know, consider, and do to earn their desired pilot certification.

Realizing that these clear standards for aeronautical knowledge, decision making, and risk management behaviors shines a light into the shadows that grow during any pilot’s career, I’ve begun tackling at least one ACS area of operation or task per week. Instead of following my curiosity into the deep recesses of the Internet, or taking a stroll through Facebook, I turn to the FAA Airman Certification Standards website and then to the FAA Handbook & Manuals page, home to the knowledge I need to answer the specific ACS challenge.

Midway through my first challenge, it became clear that before progressing further I must read FAA-H-8083-2, the Risk Management Handbook, which was born in 2009 and updated in January 2016, and FAA-H-8083-6, the Advanced Avionics Handbook, also issued in 2009. The ACS codes, I quickly learned, do not directly connect you to the appropriate chapter or section of the source material. Just as pilots must integrate the knowledge from various sources to safely conduct a flight, we students of aviation must contemplate all of the aspects involved and search out the desired knowledge from a variety of sources. This is going to take some work, but it will be fun, and rewarding. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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One Response to “Could You Pass a Checkride Based on the New Airman Certification Standards?”

  1. Andrew Liebfried Says:

    I love esoteric discussion but please bring it back to the real world. Trying to remember regs with no connection to real world application is rather difficult for one of the mature group. During my last BFR we discussed how technology can help from busting TFRs. Specifically how a local pilots was saved when the issued a last minute tfr after he had been on DUATS. Now I check not hours but minutes before departure

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