By David Oord and Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
July 31, 2013 - No matter how it's sliced, the vast majority of general aviation accidents stem from some sort of pilot error: either a lack of skill, a lack of good judgment, or both. Recognizing this, the FAA, the NTSB and industry have implemented various programs in recent years to enhance safety and reduce accident rates. These efforts are working, but accident rates remain relatively high.
One of the next steps in this long-term effort is to revise the ways in which pilots are tested and earn their certificates. In response, an industry-led effort is currently underway to overhaul the way the FAA tests a pilot's knowledge and skills. The goal is to make testing and training more relevant and meaningful to general aviation's "real world," and to move beyond the FAA's sometimes obsolete, technologically dated education and training environment.
That effort is embodied in the FAA's Airman Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which was established on September 21, 2011. In addition to various FAA managers, the ARC's membership includes representatives from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, plus training providers like Sporty's, Jeppesen, King Schools, Gleim Publications and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI).
The ARC's objective is to provide the FAA with industry's experience and expertise in the flight training arena. Put simply, industry believes airman standards, handbooks, and testing materials are not keeping pace with aviation training methods and technology. The aviation community also has faulted the FAA for its piecemeal and often unilateral efforts to revise standards, training materials and testing methodologies.
The ARC recently completed its work, producing recommendations on revising the training and testing process and content. A key recommendation called for the FAA to integrate knowledge, skills and risk management for each major task included in the current Practical Test Standards (PTS) into a single Airman Certification Standard (ACS).
According to the ARC's final report, "airman certification standards for each certificate will become the main guide for applicants to determine the required knowledge, skills, and risk management, as well as the degree of mastery applicants must achieve during their training to pass the test for certification. Questions will fully leverage rote learning where appropriate, while challenging the applicant to understand the needed knowledge without being concerned with trick questions or inconsequential direct excerpts from specific documents."
The Airman Testing Standards and Training working group has drafted standards for the private pilot certificate, instrument rating and flight instructor certificate. The standards will improve both testing and training by placing all the necessary knowledge and skill requirements into one document.
In addition to the knowledge needed to fly safely and the skills needed to fly effectively, the tools to manage the known risks of aviation are incorporated throughout the new standards.
"To build safety awareness and improve the success rate for those who start flight training, using these new standards throughout flight training will clearly make meaningful connections between the first flight, the knowledge exam and eventually practical tests," said EAA Chairman Jack Pelton.
Earlier this year, the working group published for comment draft standards for the private pilot certificate and instrument rating and received over 300 comments. Late last month, the group published revised standards, taking into account many of the comments and suggestions, and also published a new standard for flight instructors. The flying public can now review the new and revised standards on www.regulations.gov and searching for "FAA-2013-0649."