Mea Culpa from last week: Before getting to this week’s topic. I owe you an apology for not checking Google Earth last week to see that Palo Alto airport was NOT in the midst of a housing development, relating to a Cessna 310 that crashed into a house during an IMC takeoff. Any fool can see that the airport is in a relatively open area. Appreciate the correction!
Now – Do we need a knowledge test? There has been discussion in various groups about what purpose the FAA’s knowledge test serves. That conversation has been running longer than MASH or Seinfeld reruns combined. It came to light again as the only two testing companies, CATS and Laser Grade decided to arbitrarily raise their testing fees by $50 to comply with some new FAA requirements – AOPA appropriately objected and we’ll see where that goes.
Your thoughts would be welcomed, however, on the broader topic beyond the economics involved. The written test used to be just that – a multiple choice form that was filled out with a number 2 pencil and a separate test booklet with charts appended. Along comes the computer and the test had to be renamed and re-engineered for electronic delivery.
I’ve written in the magazine (and engaged with some of the FAA staff) that some of the questions were designed more to play gotcha with pilots than to accurately assess their understanding of a particular concept. The interpolation of time, fuel consumption and takeoff distances are a few areas where the degree of precision demanded by the test was overreaching when compared to the operational realities.
But do we need a test at all? Some say that the testing could be managed by designated pilot examiners (DPE) when the applicant comes in for the check ride. I’m not so sure. The population of DPEs is not entirely standardized so the “Executioner” could give a 6 hour oral while the” Santa Claus” might be happy after 20 minutes.
The alternative view is that there is a place for knowledge testing and we might acknowledge that it will not and can not assess all the areas at all the depth that a pilot should know. Do pilots and the test prep industry use rote learning and memorization? Yup and that’s no different then most other introductory learning processes.
However, to pass, learning must take place and standardization is essential to deal with the numbers of applicants. Knowing the basic FARs, airspace and charting is something the test does well. Good decision making and learning the nuances of weather is much harder to assess and we should be realistic in our expectations. You probably won’t get a real view of someone’s ADM abilities until they’re in the real world and think no one is watching.
So, what are your thoughts? ASF will be having the discussion with FAA in some detail later this spring.