Some people complain that the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) are not sufficient for today’s flying complexities. I’m not so sure about that and here’s why. The basics of not crashing airplanes haven’t changed in decades but the legalities have. In our frequently over-thought, bureaucratic and legalized interpretation of just about everything, common sense often gets bounced because someone was clever enough to create a loophole and someone else wasn’t smart enough to call them on it. Thus things get rewritten and “strengthened.”
The current PTS on every certificate largely dwells upon physical flying skills: Takeoffs, landings, ability to hold headings, altitudes, adhere to clearances, flying by reference to instruments, etc. The guidance is pretty clear. Let’s take a few examples from the Private PTS:
Takeoffs: Follow proper procedure for the takeoff roll, liftoff at the recommended airspeed and maintain Vy +10/-5 knots. etc.
Landings: Establish proper configuration, maintain a stabilized approach +10/-5 knots, touch down at or within 400 feet of a specified point with no drift etc.
If everyone adhered to these basics we’d have almost no takeoff and landing accidents, which account for about 50% annually.
How about the “incredible” complexities of assessing today’s navigation? The PTS handles this elegantly – Demonstrate the ability to use an electronic navigation system, locate the aircraft position, intercept and track, recognize station or waypoint passage, recognize signal loss, etc.
What more could you want? It’s fairly simple for an examiner to determine if the pilot knows the box even if the examiner isn’t quite certain of the nuances of a particular system. Most know where the stations and fixes are located in their area and they know when the applicant is floundering. If in doubt, perhaps the examiner’s own hand-held unit could be used to keep at least one front seat occupant oriented. I’m sure there will be some different views on that and would welcome them.
Here’s what’s tough on tests. To the extent that it’s possible, a superficial assessment is made of judgment or decision making. In the artificial world of checkrides, everyone is going to play it conservative and we don’t really get to see how someone will react until they think no one is watching. Bad judgment is where serious accidents happen – usually an entanglement with weather or stupidity involving low level maneuvering. We might consider offering continuing guidance by CFIs to help their newly certificated private or instrument pilots make the right call in the real world. Call it “service after the sale.”
If anyone knows of a pilot applicant who passed a checkride after a crash, where there wasn’t a mechanical problem, and the applicant was manipulating the controls, a prize is in the offing. Suitable proof and not just hearsay must be presented (That was a loophole slamming shut and there’s probably one I’ve missed)
If everyone adhered to the basic skill level in the various PTS, we’d have many fewer accidents. Do we need stiffer requirements? I don’t think so. In almost every case the accident pilots weren’t flying to the standards we already have. Are you up to the standard? Could you pass a checkride on your next flight? Might be fun to try.
What do you think?