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Flight Instructor Proficiency…A High Degree of Competency or Skill is Expected!

Posted 2 years 119 days ago ago by Admin

A few weeks ago, I conducted an Initial Flight Instructor practical exam for an applicant that was less than proficient. When I say less than proficient, I mean well below the minimum standard of proficiency for this certificate and rating. Having been a designated pilot examiner for a couple decades now, this is far from my first applicant that didn’t meet the minimum standard for a certificate, but this exam did make me ask “how did this applicant make it this far in the FAA certification process?”.

Having taught many flight instructors over the years, the optics I use are in parallel to the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) to include my own experiences, knowledge, and skill. As a flight instructor myself, when I present an applicant to either an FAA Inspector or Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), I consider the applicants current level of proficiency, and then reduce it by about 20% simply due to the applicant’s potential nerves at the time of the exam. I then train the applicant to a level far exceeding the PTS minimums which provides a wide buffer for any potential degraded performance of my applicant.

On this exam, it was obvious the instructor that endorsed this applicant accepted some level of mediocrity and was complacent with the endorsement issuance for this applicant. Although the ground was acceptable, it was not stellar. The fact that we proceeded to the aircraft was simply since the instructor applicant, although minimally acceptable, presented a few nuggets of information during the ground portion of the exam that kept us in the game.

One area of keen interest I had was during Area of Operation IV: Preflight Lesson on a Maneuver to be Performed in Flight. The applicant referenced several US Helicopter Safety Team (USHST) Helicopter Safety Enhancement (H-SE) recommendations within the ground lesson. With this arsenal of material, I was excited [and hopeful] that the applicant would engage the flight portion of the exam in a similar manner.

As with any flight training and checking event, I always begin with a normal takeoff and landing via a traffic pattern. It is this time that the basics of flight instruction often ring out loud and clear prior to engaging the more challenging maneuvers required by the PTS however, it was not to be.

During the takeoff portion of the traffic pattern, the applicant uttered the words “cyclic forward”. After, there was complete silence in the cockpit. As we were turning final, I reminded the applicant of the role of a flight instructor. The applicant awoke and softly uttered a giggle which ended as quickly as it began. No further words were spoken.

Upon landing, I again reminded the applicant of the role of the flight instructor. My intent was to engage the applicant as nerves sometimes distract a superb performance, but again, it was not to be. I attempted to engage the applicant by moving on to other maneuvers. The flight proficiency was more than adequate however, the requirement to exhibit instructional knowledge was non-existent. As you can imagine, the exam ended with an outcome of Unsatisfactory.

During the debrief of the examination, I asked the applicant to critique the performance demonstrated during the exam. “Same as always” was the response. Per the applicant, the instructor had advised the applicant prior to the examination that passing based on the applicant’s knowledge and skill was a 50/50 shot.

As an instructor, your job is to produce proficient applicants and future pilots. Acceptance of mediocrity has no place within the ranks of flight instructors especially when teaching a new flight instructor. One bad flight instructor can infect numerous pilots or worse, cause accidents.

Be the best of you and demand the most of them. Remember, your reputation IS your endorsement! 

About Randy: 
Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award. Rowles is the owner/president of Helicopter Institute.

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