Pilot Pride and Keeping Current with the Airman Certification Standards

By Scott Spangler on June 11th, 2018

Photo courtesy David Massey – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Pilot pride comes with the certificates and ratings achieved through successful checkrides. But like flying itself, maintaining one’s pilot pride properly is a never-ending effort. Human nature is an ever-present foe. Complacency replaces striving to be better on every flight, and boastful delusions take the place of yesterday’s abilities. Proper pilot pride abhors such delusions, and the Airman Certification Standards can help.

For those who were not paying attention, the FAA started replacing the Practical Test Standards (PTS) with Airman Certification Standards (ACS) in June 2016. Perhaps you were aware of this because of the kerfuffle over the FAA’s modification of the Slow Flight/Stall tasks.

The ACS enhances the PTS with task-specific knowledge and risk management ingredients, with the goal of getting a pilot’s head and hands on the same page. In FAA-speak, the ACS articulates what applicants and their teachers must KNOW, CONSIDER, and DO to pass a checkride for a given certificate or rating.

The FAA updated the airplane private pilot and instrument ratings, and introduced the airplane commercial pilot ACS, in June 2017. And it is again updating the ACS, which become effective June 11, 2018.

If a pilot certificate has been your back-pocket passenger for a decade or more, you may be wondering why you should care about this. On any given day, the ability to meet the certification standards for each certificate and rating proclaimed on that little piece of plastic is—and should be—the foundation for any pilot’s pride in being a competent aviator.

spiralAchieving and maintaining this level of precise performance is an almost impossible endeavor, but certainly one worth striving for on every flight. Bragging rights go to those who exceed the certification standards for aeronautical knowledge and consistent execution of stick-and-rudder skills to parameters approaching plus or minus nothing.

Relaxing one’s performance parameters when no one is watching is human nature, that’s why pilots are never more proficient than on checkride day. But what does that say about a pilot who consistently lets those standards slide? After disengaging the autopilot, what pride does a pilot proclaim by maintaining the assigned or desired attitude or heading within a few hundred feet and 30 degrees? The same goes for any other routine stick-and-rudder executions of flight.

Many pilots proudly profess their piloting abilities, and they have every right because earning any pilot certification or rating takes a focused investment of time, money, and effort required by few other activities. But like a writer, who is only as good as his last story, a pilot is only as good as his last checkride, and that’s a problem only self-discipline will solve.

Writers have an easier time keeping their knowledge and skills current and proficient because you, the reader, are not shy about illuminating less than acceptable performances. Pilots, on the other hand, only know they have a problem when the FAA asks them to demonstrate their knowledge and ability again, after their initial certification checkride. So pilots must be self-starting and self-disciplined to sustain their checkride capabilities, if for no other reason than to avoid a repeat checkride performance for the FAA.

This requires more that fulfilling the minimum requirements for recent experience. Logging circuits and bumps on a good day and calling it currency is self-delusional. To prove and demonstrate pride in your abilities, fly those takeoffs and landings as you would on a checkride. Start at the beginning.

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Download the Private Pilot ACS and work your way through “IV. Takeoffs, Landings, and Go-Arounds.” That will give you at least five circuits—Normal, Soft-Field, Short-Field, Forward Slip, and Go-Around—more if you cannot fly them to the minimum standards the ACS provides for each of them. Don’t stop until you can meet the checkride requirements, even if it takes more than a flight or two.

Before you fly, review the Knowledge, Risk Management, and Skills the ACS lists for each task. Put them to work. Finger-trace the little numbers in the airplane’s flight manual to determine performance for actual or hypothetical combinations of temperature and wind and weight. If you cannot articulate the specifics of the ACS’s risk management elements, download the listed references and read up on them. Investing the time to know—not guess—is another beneficial factor of pilot pride.

Human nature is the enemy every self-testing effort, but there’s a way to easily combat it. Make an ACS task part of your annual flight review and/or instrument proficiency check. Ask your flight instructor to assess your knowledge and skill to those standards, then strive to surpass them, because nothing does a pilot’s pride better than having another aviator recognize it. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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