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Checkride Etiquette - Look Like a Rotorcraft Pro!

Posted 8 years 252 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

My wife and I recently went to see a movie starring Robert De Niro. I truly enjoy most of his movies, however I wasn’t really sure at first I would like his latest: The Intern. In it De Niro portrays 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker looking to come out of retirement to fill a void left by the passing of his wife. I wound up enjoying the movie and related to Whittaker’s journey and perspective on the ever-changing workplace.

In the movie, Whittaker’s co-workers are much younger than him, thus their work culture is somewhat different. From Day One, his co-workers comment on the way he dresses while mocking his work ethic. I won’t spoil the ending, however this movie got me thinking: Are my expectations of our younger pilot population too out of touch? After much thought and reflection, my answer is: I don’t think so.

A few years ago, I noticed a change in the appearance of applicants taking their FAA examination. In my old-school mentality, when applying for something—whatever that something may be—certain etiquette, a dress-to-impress mindset, is appropriate and expected. Lately, a more relaxed attitude among applicants has become the norm, and flight schools seem to be following suit in lowering the etiquette standards for checkrides.

The average citizen expects a pilot to be a consummate professional. Most expect a pilot to have confidence, attitude, a can-do demeanor, and in many cases—The Look. What is this look? It’s a professional appearance that makes passengers feel more comfortable because their captain matches their expectations of him or her. They just feel that their pilot is the right person for the job. Passengers likely don’t know the pilot’s actual experience, but they feel better simply because their pilot has The Look.       

Here are two simple points of etiquette that should be adhered to regarding FAA checkrides. The first point: There is rarely an occasion when an applicant should directly contact the FAA examiner to schedule an exam. The applicant is being presented to the FAA by the instructor, thus it is proper for the instructor or flight school representative to schedule with the examiner. It’s not uncommon for a student to believe that they are ready for an exam long before their recommending instructor is in agreement.

The second point: Dress to impress. Cutoff shorts and a T-shirt that reads “Pull My Finger for a Prize” should be avoided. Remember, you are applying to the FAA to obtain the privilege to pilot an aircraft with other lives in your hands. You are attempting to convince a stranger that you’re fit for this duty and that you will act in a professional manner. Your first impression will make a definitive impact on the examiner, and potentially set the tone for the remainder of your exam. My suggestion is simply to wear nothing less than business casual. If you’re not familiar with the term—Google it!   


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.