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FAA Practical Test Standards: Is The Minimum Good Enough

Posted 9 years 230 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

The FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) outline the minimum standards for a pilot applicant. The purpose of the PTS is simply to remove the subjective nature of the exam and to evaluate each applicant based on objective performance criteria. To be frank, the PTS provides a path to identify unsatisfactory performance and to provide each applicant with clear reasoning behind the examiner’s decision. This was an issue in years past when the Examiner’s Handbook left standards to the discretion of the examiner conducting the ride.

Today's PTS clearly defines the standards by which the FAA deems a pilot applicant to be proficient. However, is this truly a level to strive to attain? The minimum standard reflects the poorest performance an applicant can demonstrate and still be acceptable to receive a certificate.

To put this in perspective, think about medical school. What do they call the student that scores the lowest passing grade? A doctor! You’ll never know how well your physician did while in school. We in the general public have to trust that the educational integrity within the medical community strives to a high standard for each and every medical professional to whom we entrust our health care. The same must be said for the aviation professional as well.

As flight instructors, we must strive to train our students to a standard much higher than those required by the PTS. Our students must be capable of dealing with the real challenges of being a helicopter pilot, allowing their education to make up where their lack of experience exists. Only a comprehensive curriculum, administrated by skilled and experienced veterans of our industry, can produce such quality–based helicopter pilots. But how do we get the highly experienced to aid in the aviation education process? It's simple … just ask!

Many within the helicopter community would enjoy an opportunity to mentor and share their experiences with newer aviators within our ranks. Flight schools, and other entities engaged in the training of helicopter pilots, should reach out to experienced helicopter professionals to help develop curriculum, speak to classes, mentor instructors, or just to help motivate students as they move through the transitional challenges of flight training.

Remember, the flight instructor’s ‘product’ is the student they present to the industry. The strengths and weaknesses of the student often mirror those of their training environment. Provide a robust and comprehensive aviation education, where the standards mirror the high requirements of the profession, and your student will have no problem exceeding the minimum standards of the FAA PTS.

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.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.