The Airman Certification Standards

As most readers of my blog know, I'm not a fan of the new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) for many reasons, not the least of which I originally posted with the FAA in 2013 (click here to read that response). Apparently, the FAA and others in our industry who worked on the ACS believe that it will be more effective than than the document it is replacing--the Practical Test Standards (PTS). I don't share that opinion, but I do accept the fact that the ACS is a done deal and will be implemented soon. So be it (unfortunately). Nevertheless, it might be interesting to take a deeper look at a few issues that I did not address in my original response to the ACS.

As I see it, the PTS had evolved into a practical  and useful document that most everyone liked. It was simple, easy to interpret and stood the test of time. That, in itself, should have rendered it untouchable by anyone wise enough to see its ultimate value. But this didn't happen. Instead, the PTS was modified to accommodate the FAA's "Postmodern" and "Fantasy-type" thinking about Risk Management into flight training. As a result, the once relatively objective PTS will now become the highly subjective ACS. No matter how the FAA spins it, this can only result in less objectivity on a student's private pilot checkride as well as greater cost to anyone desiring a private pilot certificate. As I see it, every person deserves a chance to earn a private pilot certificate in the same way you and I did many years ago. Unfortunately, the ACS makes this less likely to occur.

That said, I am against a major overhaul of the PTS when a simple solution—a Knowledge Testing Standard—was clearly the better choice. The ACS Q&As suggested that the aviation community needed a “more relevant knowledge exam.” Really? Relevant in what way? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our current multiple choice questions that test a person’s knowledge (think SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.). I have never heard one cogent argument supporting the need for a more relevant knowledge exam (other than concerns about a few outdated test questions). Nor did I read any cogent argument to this effect in the ACS Q&As. To be frank about it, almost every response in the ACS Q&As had me shaking my head. So much of it was pure speculation and patronizing. Does anyone seriously believe that the ACS will reduce training times and costs? Believe me, I'd love to be proven wrong here. After all, less cost and time in earning a pilot certificate would only help everyone in aviation, not hurt them. Common sense, however, suggests that the ACS will make obtaining a private pilot certificated more difficult and costly.

Here is a short list of my concerns about the ACS that were not mentioned in my original response.

  • The risk management concept in the ACS is highly “subjective” and will decrease the “objectivity” of the practical test. Look up the risk management concept of the “Composite Risk Index.” This is a scientific assessment of risk, which makes it a relatively “objective” assessment. The ACS uses a very soft FAA risk management strategy (it’s actually a “hazard avoidance” strategy, not a “risk management” strategy), which makes this a highly “subjective” activity. Please understand that your primary students are now responsible for addressing specific "highly subjective" risk management questions during their checkride without these questions having "objective" answers located in any FAA document. We are going from relatively objective standards in the PTS to highly subjective standards in the ACS (read my Risk Management blog to learn more about this). Ironically, even the FAA agrees that risk management is a "subjective" act, not an "objective" one as you'll read in two excerpts from the FAA's manuals.

    • Here's an excerpt on Risk Management from Page 1-5 through 1-6 of the FAA's Risk Management Handbook (FAA-H-8083-2):

      Managing Risks - Excerpt
      "Risk is the degree of uncertainty.... Risk management is unique to each and every individual, since there are no two people exactly alike in skills, knowledge, training, and abilities. An acceptable level of risk to one pilot may not necessarily be the same to another pilot...."

    • And here's an excerpt on Risk Management from Page 17-4 of the FAA's Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25A).

      Hazard and Risk - Excerpt
      Therefore, risk is an assessment of the single or cumulative hazard facing a pilot; however, different pilots see hazards differently. For example, the pilot arrives to preflight and discovers a small, blunt type nick in the leading edge at the middle of the aircraft’s prop.... The seasoned pilot may see the nick as a low risk. He realizes this type of nick diffuses stress over a large area, is located in the strongest portion of the propeller, and based on experience, he doesn’t expect it to propagate a crack which can lead to high risk problems. He does not cancel his flight. The inexperienced pilot may see the nick as a high risk factor because he is unsure of the affect the nick will have on the prop’s operation and he has been told that damage to a prop could cause a catastrophic failure. This assessment leads him to cancel his flight." 

  • Despite what the Q&As suggest, I see no logical way the ACS will shorten the practical test, much less decrease the cost of training. The reason given in the Q&As in support of reduced training times and costs is (with all due respect) deeply naive.
  • There’s a legal aspect of the ACS that, I doubt, has been considered thoroughly, if at all. In my opinion, the ACS will make it easier for any lawyer to pursue legal action (where no legal action is warranted morally) against a flight instructor based on the delineation of “highly subjective” risk management standards. As a flight instructor, I am deeply concerned about this.
  • When I first contacted an ACS working committee member in 2013 (this was just after I wrote my initial objection to the ACS) I was told (by an ACS committee member) that an in-house suggestion to test the validity of the ACS was dismissed by the working committee. Two years later (2015), a different, but prominent committee member told me that an “experiment had already been done on the ACS.” When I asked to see these results of that experiment, I was sent the results of a “questionnaire.” Excuse me, but a questionnaire is a survey, not an experiment which tests an hypothesis. At the same time I was told that another “experiment” was underway in late 2015 at a South Eastern and North Western FSDO to test the ACS. My question is, “Why is an experiment being done after the ACS is set to be implemented?” Shouldn’t this have been accomplished before the ACS was set to be implemented? Doesn’t this seem like an idea (the ACS) in search of data to support it?
  • Why did the FAA not give the “at large” GA community a choice to use the ACS and compare its “claimed” value, utility and ease-of-use to the PTS? If the claims made by the ACS Q&As are true, then the ACS would shorten training times and costs, and make it easier on the CFI and student. What flight instructor could resist that? If these claims were indeed accurate, the GA community would gladly support the ACS. Instead, it seems to me that the FAA is foisting the ACS on the GA community by fiat. After all, changing an FAA advisory book or manual (which is what the PTS is) doesn't require use of the FAA's formal rule making process. People can argue against this change, but if the FAA and industry "stake holders" feel they know better that the collective wisdom in the general aviation community, then these counterarguments carry very little weight.
  • The ACS Q&As claim that the current private pilot knowledge exam needed a complete overhaul because of all the outdated and irrelevant questions students were being asked. Any capable flight instructor could have eliminated every single “bad” question in the current private pilot knowledge exam data bank in less than six hours. In my opinion, nearly all the questions on the private knowledge exam are valid and reliable test questions (save a few outdated ones). They have, after all, stood the test of time.
  • I think the ACS working committee has a responsibility to “prove” that the claims made by the ACS Q&As are true before the ACS is implemented. The current Q&As are sadly lacking in proof of concept, much less arguments that convince or persuade. If the FAA is indeed conducting an actual test in a Southern FSDO area, then I’d like to see the results of that test. I’d like to see proof that training times and training costs are reduced. I’d like to know if the knowledge test scores of students actually increase and whether or not the designated examiner actually finds his/her job made easier because of the ACS. I’d also like to see how checkride times are reduced, too. I’d especially like to see the experimental data and the structure of the FSDO experiment being conducted. I have training in these areas and am very interested to see what it is that the committee is actually testing. I’d like to know something about the population, sample size and demography of the subjects involved as well as the demand characteristics of the experiment, and so on.
  • To name a few more of my concerns (comparison between PTS and ACS below if you're interested).

I fully realize that I'm being a pest to the FAA and the ACS working committee members, many of whom are friends (I hope we still are). But I never offer criticism without also offering an alternate course of action, which is what I've done above. So let me be clear to all my readers that I’m not anti-FAA. Instead, I’m anti “bad ideas.” I’ve supported the FAA on many of their ideas over the years—and they’ve had some good ones, too. The new Airman Certification Standards (ACS), however, isn’t one of them. Yes, it’s an attempt to do good, but as I’ve said more than once, “Having good intentions is a highly overrated virtue.” It’s what you do that counts. In my opinion, the ACS will hinder and not help aviation training at the private pilot level.


Comparison of the PTS to the ACS
Below are two excerpts. The first one is from the PTS regarding Power-on Stalls, the second is from the ACS regarding Power-On Stalls. As you can see, the ACS appears much more complex because it is more complex. It almost looks like a syllabus--a practical "training" standard instead of a practical "testing" standard, which is what is has become by default. Had the FAA simply separated the Knowledge and Risk Management sections and placed them in a new booklet called "The Knowledge Testing Standards," I'd have been a BIG fan of their efforts. 




By Rod Machado | | PTS-ACS Arguments | 20 comments
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  • Rick McDonald - January 21, 2017

    I too at age 53 just recently took and earned my PPL SEL, my CFI prepared me for the PTS not understanding the ACS had been fully implemented. When I went for my practical the oral exam took every bit of 4.5 hours. I was being tested on P.A.V.E. which I had never seen, this was never shown to me as part of an exam. Thank God my CFI was thorough in my instructions and that I had taken the written exam so serious because I was able to work through this and pass. My DPE critiqued me to a point I felt like I had wasted close to 20k if lessons and over 100 hours in flight time over the previous year. This all because of this change not being implemented properly across the country. If I would have known exactly what to expect I would have been much more prepared. This oral portion took so long we had to postpone the flight portion to another day. Being they we live always out this was also very costly. This also affected my eventual flight review as all I could think of was what is this DPE going to throw at me now. The stress level was off the charts to the point I made some very simple minor mistakes and had to retest on 4 simple procedures that I knew very well at the onset. He had me questioning my own name for God sakes. Now I’m a beginner in this world but I’m no spring chicken, I have been around the block a time or two and have always succeeded at my mission. I personally have now witnessed why the aviation industry is doomed to fail. When it cost 20K for lessons, 1 year of flying, 2 separate ground schools (1 on line ($300) and one 200 miles away ($500)), a $700.00 check ride and 3 trips to meet with the DPE you ask yourself how many people are willing to go through this and can afford it. Now some of you reading this may be saying “This guy must be an idiot” but the facts are simple. My instructor has gave me the highest of praises and assured me I am one of the better pilots he has had the pleasure to teach, my DPE referred to me as having some of the best common sense he’s seen and passed me based on my decision making not necessarily my knowledge of P.A.V.E.. He also explained his decision to have me re-test on the 4 different as primarily having to do with nerves and not my knowledge of flying ability. I did not hold this against my instructor or my DPE, I feel honored to have been able to learn from them both. I do believe GA is in a world of hurt if this is becoming the norm because not all people are as resilient and fortunate financially as I am. My simple question for the powers to be, where are you going to find the future of GA pilots, how are the airports going to be maintained when the only GA pilots left are those that are on the verge of losing their medical do to age. As I understood it a PPL is only the first step to get us in the air and ensure we have the basic knowledge to fly and land an airplane. As my CFI says, “Your trying to be a Dr. at this point”. Just my 2 cents from the beginner’s point of view!

  • Nick - September 30, 2016

    I want to start off by saying I’m just an old chunk of coal, by no means am I an expert in aviation, so please excuse any offense I might garner. I only seek to understand.

    I agree with some of your points and disagree with others. But for the most part, I like the ACS. It clears up a lot of questions I have when preparing a student for an upcoming checkride by specifying ADM and risk management and not allowing examiners to make up their own standards. The ACS isn’t perfect, but I think it is the natural evolution of the PTS combined with the special emphasis areas.

    The ACS should’ve been tested thoroughly before it was implemented. Could not agree more with you. There is no evidence that suggests the ACS will make pilots safer or decrease training time. Why enact this change without knowing a sample of results?

    I agree with your statement that “there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our current multiple choice questions that test a person’s knowledge (think SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.).” The FAA says the first step to correlation is rote knowledge. From my understanding the test questions don’t change, but instead of looking up missed questions in a separate document we look in the ACS. Wouldn’t that be better for prepping for the test?

    I disagree with your statement " I certainly wouldn’t have wanted my doctor to have had access to the exact questions he or she would experience when sitting for the medical licensing exam. Would you?" It depends on how well the test is designed. If the questions genuinely reflected the knowledge to be a private pilot wouldn’t you want the questions available? Even you said “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our current multiple choice questions that test a person’s knowledge.” If you believe that sincerely then why wouldn’t you want the questions available for study?

    You said in your ACS response “Why is it not reasonable to assume that the knowledge exam previously taken by the applicant has already evaluated his or her risk assessment acumen?” Same could be said for the knowledge portion of the practical test. If the written test fully covers the knowledge then wouldn’t it be redundant to test knowledge during the practical? Again, I point to your quote: “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with our current multiple choice questions that test a person’s knowledge.” This is where you and I disagree: rote memorization of knowledge and risk management do nothing in the air or SBT. There needs to be those last two steps of learning, application and correlation.

    My main beef with the PTS: I sincerely believe that the ACS clears up most of the garbage in the preface of the PTS, especially the special emphasis areas. This is straight from the private pilot PTS:

    “Special Emphasis Areas
    Examiners shall place special emphasis upon areas of aircraft operations considered critical to flight safety. Among these are:

    1. Positive aircraft control,
    2. Positive exchange of the flight controls procedure,
    3. Stall/spin awareness,
    4. Collision avoidance,
    5. Wake turbulence avoidance,
    6. LAHSO,
    7. Runway incursion avoidance,
    8. CFIT,
    9. ADM and risk management,
    10. Wire strike avoidance,
    11. Checklist usage,
    12. Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs),
    13. Special use airspace (SUA),
    14. Aviation security,
    15. Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM), and
    16. Other areas deemed appropriate to any phase of the practical test.

    A given special emphasis area may not be specifically addressed under a given Task. All areas are essential to flight and will be evaluated during the practice test."

    My biggest issue is with number 9, 16, and the last statement. I agree that objective elements should be integrated into the standards. And I believe the FAA et al are trying to integrate those special emphasis areas into the standards in an objective way.

    For example: using the PTS, how are students supposed to know the objective standards of ADM, risk management, and “other areas deemed appropriate to any phase of the practical test” during a normal approach and landing? It is a broad subject and leaves too much up to the examiner. But if you look under the risk management elements of the normal approach and landing in ACS it actually gives specific study items. Appendix 6 in the ACS further clarifies this:

    “the evaluator must assess the applicant’s ability to use sound aeronautical decision making procedures in order to identify hazards and mitigate risk. The evaluator must accomplish this requirement by reference to the risk management elements of the given Task(s)…” Now, it’s not perfectly objective, but it’s a step in the right direction.

    The PTS is not specific with the special emphasis areas while the ACS is. The ACS is simply the combination of the PTS and special emphasis areas. The ACS takes those special emphasis areas and lists objective standards in each task. The PTS spews out special emphasis areas and vague statements and assumes that the instructor, student, DPE and FAA will all magically come to the same conclusion for each task. And I hate the PTS in this regard. And I hate the ACS for being over loaded in the risk management areas of the tasks. But I’d choose the ACS (objective standards!) over the PTS (vague!).

    The ACS is more specific and helps train students and align test standards. That is why the ACS committee and FAA believe it will take less time to train even though there are more pages in the ACS than the PTS.

    I send students to your website to help them gain from the collective knowledge of pilots, and I think your experience helps training. I really wished the FAA had sought your insight to the creation of the ACS especially in regards to objective standards. Thanks Mr. Machado.

  • Anand Narayanappa - September 10, 2016

    Rod I read your book (sole study material) for my Instrument rating, and it was perfect for the new ACS (Instrument Rating). Everything asked was ‘real life’ scenario questions which your book explains well, and gives great examples. Also the new guidelines list explicitly what topics should be covered so my DPE went down the list asking one question from each. I found this easier to study for rather than memorizing rote questions from an ASA book like I did over 20 years ago for my Private. The check ride portion is no different except for no NDB approaches required. I found the new ACS to be more practical and real world scenario based than my previous exam and felt it to be better. I actually felt like during this exam my examiner was trying to assess my knowledge to fly in actual situations that might arise rather than asking me to recite questions about weather charts and localizer widths. The flight school I rent out of has also had positive experiences for their Private Pilot students as well (different school than the one I did my Instrument with) and the CFI that checked me out for their rentals has liked the ACS orals much better. If this isn’t what you are experiencing in your part of the country than maybe Phoenox is different, but the general feel here has been positive.

  • Diego Garcia - August 15, 2016

    I took my PPSEL checkride today. The first our school has had under the new ACS, with DPE iwho is well know to all.

    Due to the layout and the structure of the ACS, the oral portion of this test took AGES! Again this is not a rookie DPE, yet the oral portion still took approximately 5 hours. There was just so much to cover and so many scenarios.

    I think the DPE felt bad about how long it took, since I was clearly prepared and knew my stuff. He was convinced that I was qualified within the first hour, but we still had to go through every ACS section and subsection.

    It took so long that we did not have time to get in the airplane. If you are planning a checkride under ACS, you should expect either your DPE to cut corners or if he is a stickler to rules like mine, that your checkride may have to extend over more than one day.

    I totally get the thought behind updating the system, and the thought behind ACS, but honestly this is a real impediment to general aviation. ACS has raised the bar so high as far as the complexity and time needed for a thorough checkride that many students will find it overwhelming.

    I got a 90%+ on my knowledge test and Aced each of the college classes for ground and aviation etc, yet I still had to go through a 7 hour oral exam. I think more and more people are just going to walk away and checkride costs are going to start soaring as more DPEs see how much time the new system takes.

  • Marc Santacroce - July 21, 2016

    Rod, thank you for your work on behalf of students, and CFIs everywhere. I particularly appreciated your discussion of ITF vs OTF scenes. Teaching RM is indeed teaching hazard avoidance; the rest has to come with experience. By and large, we’ve done our jobs if we teach stick-and-rudder, and install hazard avoidance in our charges. As a CFI, I’m really struggling with how to make ACS work — no guidance from the FAA or the ACS folks there. The work continues. Best wishes. Marc

  • Rafael Sierra - July 16, 2016

    It’s definetly more complicated and in need of proof-reads. The document was not ready to be put into effect. Not fair to the student, CFI or DPE. Needs a learning curve period.

  • Tom - July 10, 2016

    Kudos to you Rod for taking a very valuable perspective on the new ACS standards. Someone had to do it!

    Having just read your opinion above and in July 2016 AOPA PILOT magazine, I was more than relieved that someone with your experience and standing in the GA world would share and verbalize nearly exactly my take on the issue.

    You can best appreciate why I’m so grateful for your insightful (and courageous) stand because:
    1. I had a dream as a child to someday pilot small (then Piper Cub) type airplanes,
    2. I now have a student certificate, 29 CFI hours at a local flight school, just passed the
    Knowledge test (93%), and am told that I will soon solo,
    3. I have been assiduously following the evolution of the “changes” of private pilot testing
    and certification requirements on the FAA website, AOPA resources and anywhere else I can get relevant information because,
    4. the ACS in the near future directly impacts ME!

    Sure it’s great that AOPA chaired the committee, and as you have fairly acknowledged, “…there can be no doubt about their good intentions.” Dare I infer about what else is paved with good intentions?

    For example, one clearly obvious reality of the ACS document which you so well point out is its verbiage. There is a fairly well known idiom in the study of law called “Res Ipsa Loquitur” meaning simply “the thing speaks for itself”. I printed the ACS document on the day it was enacted, this June16, and immediately compared it to the PTS book which I had been using to corrolate my training to how I will be tested. Its twice as big. My first thought was that I’ll have a few hundred extra hours of memorization to put in before I’m ready for the certification test because the ACS has MUCH more testable information and subsequently, more opportunity to fail if I don’t know every word of it.

    In my not so humble opinion, I believe that doubling the size of the test standards document and then asserting that it will not make flight training take longer and more expensive can only be construed by any reasonable person as misrepresentation. Further, one should question the excluding of the input of the individual CFI community who, after all, are the ones in the trenches. Moreover, the credibility of a unanimously positive, inadequately small, internally controlled "test sample’ reminds that “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck..”, it’s no surprise if it quacks.

    Constructive criticism is an inherent and benevolent part of human endeavors of any magnitude. I would like to believe that Ron’s words are heeded more than it seems his input has been so far.

    Let me be perfectly clear. I want to be a an airman. I want to know as much as I can about the safety and risks of flying. I have already invested well over five hundred hours and almost fifteen thousand dollars in
    giving my all to reach my goal. I’m dedicated, confident, and willing to do whatever it takes to learn and pass the ACS requirements. Timing is everything in life. Time will tell if my dream will come true. I just hope I have enough time; you see, I just went on a hundred-dollar hamburger ride with my CFI and my wife to celebrate my 69th birthday.

  • Bob Johnson - July 02, 2016

    I’m in complete agreement with you, Rod! This all smells like typical government over-complication. Not to take away from your excellent publications, I have found William Kershner’s one-page discussion of “good headwork”, "air discipline, and having “a good attitude toward flying”, in his Sudent Pilot’s Flight Manual, to have served me well in 23,000 hours of GA & 121 flying over 48 years. A CFI who exemplifies & encourages those attributes, and insists on good stick rudder skills, still can produce a safe pilot!

  • Ray Bloch Sr. - June 29, 2016

    Rod we have met several times in the past and have always admired the way you present and resolve issues of concern in aviation. As a flight instructor and one who is concerned about the future of aviation, I must say with great emphasis, you are right on. It seems to me that the FAA has totally lost its direction. One can not teach the subject of risk management by dictation. Risk management can only it be learned thru experience therefore we have co-pilots, FO’s , who learn from the master. Example I tried many times to explain the hazard of getting to close to the fire to my son but he never gained respect until he burned his finger.

  • Reg G - June 20, 2016

    Rod, I’m on the same page as you.

    Unfortunately most government entities have only one way to show their value, they continue to cook up new ways of doing things even if the existing way of doing things was simple and accomplished what it originally intended to do.

    I believe there is another significant issue that I haven’t seen surfaced. CFI’s are basically the vehicle to present this to students and get them to absorb it. I just recently downloaded the ACS and I don’t see any training or guidance to CFI’s of how this concept should be taught and taught differently from the handbooks we all have (in PDF and printed copies) on our desks. It’s one thing to have it dropped on us and told to “go and do” and quite another to be “trained” to achieve the intended “integrated” results.

    I’ll be spending considerable time having to research that myself. Why hasn’t the FAA used it’s considerable resources to publish a new Flight Instructor’s Handbook. The most current copy on the FAA’s website says it was updated in 2008. I would have thought they would have announced the roll out, asked for input and then made revisions and then approached every instructor with a new copy of the Instructor’s Handbook and a series of webinars illustrating the application of current teaching techniques using the new ACS. There are examples on the internet where young children are better at disseminating information on the internet that what I’ve seen so far from the FAA. I’m not convinced that the FAA doesn’t have an email address for every current instructor.

    I’d say the FAA has dropped the ball (twice). Come on guys and gals, you can do far better.

    And….don’t get me started on the really absurd changes the FAA made to the online instructor renewal sites by implementing an arbitrary page timer. Where did they get the data that proves that forcing CFI’s to stay on a web page for 6, 8 or 10 minutes makes them absorb the materials much better. Ahhh….and these folks are trying to get us to teach better.

  • Shary - June 20, 2016

    Bureaucrats need justification for continuation of employment, thus create chaos out of simplicity

  • Mike A - June 18, 2016

    Not sure how long ago this article was written, but it appears ACS is here. I see a bad moon rising, in all this. While I understood the need for updating a decades old system of testing, with emphasis on items more current (with basic flying skills just as important as ever); this is not the answer. I took an Aviation Law class years ago, which was a real eye opener for me. In this ONE area alone; ACS has got scary written all over it. A lawyer will wait until that $10,000 a year, CFI, has their $100,000+ Corporate/Airline/Cargo gig, to go after them. That class made want to become a Forest Ranger instead. Still, I have to hope for the best, for aviation. Best, Mike A

  • Cavusteve - June 17, 2016

    Change can be terrific or terrible but any new designed objective needs to be clear and concise, teachable, and readily offer reliable results when used as an evaluation tool by the majority of
    DPEs (in this case). The jury is out on this. If ambiguities in evaluation, excessive training and test times persist and increase from ACS use it must either be better tested, modified or retired

  • James Hibbert - June 14, 2016

    After reading the 28 pages of FAA talk, I see limited value in the change. Good instructors should be making these things occur already. I am not sure that this will help. John and Martha King have talked about risk management in their articles in magazines. The information has been quite good. Dropping NDB questions probably is a good thing. Dropping complicated math calculations is probably good. Dumbing down seems to be the way our entire society is headed.

  • Dana L - June 12, 2016

    I do not believe the new standards are intended to make it easier to fail someone, but like general education standards in the public school system have been evolving for decades, it may be a means to make it easier to pass someone. That makes more sense for a system that doesn’t make much sense being driven from above, with little regard for input from the community at large.

  • Paul - June 01, 2016

    100 percent agree with Rod. Typical government process and result. Start out with lofty goal of simpler and better but end up with more complex and less objective.

  • John M - March 28, 2016

    From the little I have read, it seems to be more geared to instilling a greater amount of fear and also covering the FAA backside. Flying is dangerous and to not know or accept when learning is something very few students would ignore. Also setting what appear to be open ended standards may seem to suggest instructors will teach or stress in training the things they know the DFA will want to see. Not a good thing

  • Nick A - March 26, 2016

    Rod, I share your concern of subjectivity vs objectivity, but I think we cannot view PTS/ACS in a vacuum. As instructors we have a duty to our students to teach them to be the best pilots they can be. Unfortunately both PTS and ACS are mere guiding principles that are interpreted by FAA or DPE’s etc. I feel the long pole in the tent is NOT the guiding document (I feel I could give a fair assessment of a persons skill using either PTS or ACS) but more the examiner.

    I see two main problems in our system of flight instruction. The first has its roots in our entire educational system, that is teaching to the assessment versus teaching to understanding. Many Instructors are just preparing their students for a check ride, period. Second, we have a very aging group of examiners who will not let go of those jobs due the the very lucrative nature of being a DPE. I rarely see them step outside their comfort zone to pursue continuing education, etc. It is well known in the local areas which examiners have a well-rounded, real world understanding of how to interpret PTS as a whole to test what an applicant needs to be able to perform safely as a newly certificated pilot. It is equally well know which examiners are to be avoided for their rigid, black and white view of the exact check ride profile they have chosen (which rarely mirrors real life).

    If we really want a better product, I suggest we start identifying not the source of the testing standards, but the source of truly exceptional INSTRUCTION and EVALUATION. Some body (FAA?) should then have a mandate to develop those exceptional instructors into exceptional evaluators. As one who has held standardization jobs in aviation for many years and conducted countless evaluation flights, I know there is a BIG difference between Instruction and evaluation (although both must occur on a check ride). I know that if a student sets up for a maneuver in a slightly different manner than I do, but is safe and has a good reason (as well as needing to be within the PTS/ACS), there is no reason to feel any heartache. Ask around, how many people got out of a check flight and thanked the examiner for a great evaluation and a good learning experience?

  • Bob Cummins - March 26, 2016

    What ever happened to KISS? Keep it simple, stupid!

  • Josh K - March 23, 2016

    Instructor’s beware! In preparing your students for the checkride, it’s not our interpretation of the standards that’s important – it’s the examiner’s. With the expanded and more complicated list of elements for each task, it becomes even more crucial to know exactly how the examiner will interpret each element to have any assurance that your applicant is adequately prepared.

    Basically it looks like a document that will make it easier for an examiner to fail someone.

    Putting “checkride success” further out of reach will likely result in fewer students coming down the pipeline. Combine that with the new SIC requirements, and the outlook doesn’t look good for those kids who are coming to us with visions of a ATP certificates dancing in their heads.

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  • The Games Young People Play

    By Rod Machado Lucky me. Lucky, because at a recent aviation event, I met and chatted with Sally Melvill, wife of Mike Melvill (SpaceShipOne). She’s a delightful and insightful lady who earned her chops teaching kindergarten. She knows how the... read more

  • Private Pilot Checkrides: The Good Old Days

    My friend, DPE and highly experienced pilot, Mr. Frank Phillips was kind enough to provide me with much of the following documentation in this blog piece. I am grateful that he loves flight training--including its history and development--as much as... read more

  • Reduce Stalls and Spins with Right-Hand Traffic Patterns

    By Rod Machado NOTE: I post these articles, in particular this one, in hopes of receiving some well reasoned input. This article presents an hypothesis that needs testing. Nearly every response so far suggests that pilots should be taught to fly coordinated... read more

  • The Limited Flight Instructor Certificate

    A recent Polish immigrant visited his local flight surgeon to take a third-class medical exam. The doctor had him stand in a specific spot, then pulled down a chart showing the letters: CVOKPTNXZYKV. The doc said to the Polish immigrant,... read more

  • The FAA's New "Not-So-Slow" Slow Flight Procedure

    As most flight instructors know the FAA recently changed the requirements for slow flight in the private pilot ACS. Slow flight must now be accomplished at a speed higher than MCA or Minimum Controllable Airspeed (a speed at which the stall... read more

  • Your Airline Career

    By Rod Machado  Now that you've acquired all the necessary flight instructor ratings, you're ready to think about becoming qualified for that airline job. Normally, you should think about getting hired with a regional airline first. This allows you to... read more

  • Obtaining Your Advanced Pilot Ratings

     By Rod Machado     Once you've acquired the private pilot certificate, you're ready to fly, have fun and, perhaps, pursue that airline career. If so, here's what you should think about doing.   First, you'll need to obtain the following certificates... read more

  • How to Become a Private Pilot

    By Rod Machado What Does it Take? What does it take for you to become a private pilot? If you’re like most people, once you get the thought of flying airplanes in your noggin, it continues to play like a musical... read more


    By Rod Machado    Here is the sequence of steps you should consider in pursuing your private pilot license (it's technically called a "certificate" but we'll call it a license). As you'll see, the most important steps listed below deal... read more

  • Young People and Career Choices

    By Rod Machado I remember a time when an airplane would fly over our house during dinner and I’d run outside shirtless—in my tiny pants and bare feet—and then point skyward and yell, “Airpwane! Airpwane! Airpwane!” I remember that because... read more

  • The FORBIDDEN Question

    By Rod Machado During my high school years, it was known as the forbidden dance—the Lambada. Do it on the dance floor in front of the principal and you’d be “dancing with the scars” resulting from that encounter. Some things... read more

  • Rod's Letter to the FAA and ACS Committee Members

    Yes, really! The Private Pilot ACS adds 363 Risk Management items to the PPL practical exam testing requirements. Students are responsible for knowing the answers to each and every one of these items, all of which require highly subjective answers (according... read more