How to tell if your student is ready for their flight test.
Many flight test failures are caused by inadequate or ineffective preparation and evaluation prior to recommendation. Here’s some thoughts on how to avoid this problem:
For all candidates:
Be thoroughly familiar with the required skill and knowledge standards. The flight test standards are contained in the respective Flight Test Guide. You and your student need to be thoroughly familiar with this publication. Every word is important. Treat the Performance Criteria items and Flight Management sections as checklists.
Flight management skills are often overlooked. Be totally familiar with the sections on Flight Management, Airmanship, and the 4-point Marking Scale from the first section of the appropriate Flight Test Guide, and incorporate this information into your flight test prep. As I said above, treat the Flight Management section as a checklist.
Students are often sent to a flight test before they are ready. Here’s how to avoid that:
Presumably you will do a comprehensive pre-test evaluation (mock flight test) before giving your student a letter of recommendation. Before doing this, the student must be able to consistently fly each flight test item to a level of 3 or 4 with absolutely no input from you. And not just once. Multiple unassisted performances of each maneuver are essential. If you have to say anything at all to ensure that the item is passed, then it is a fail.
Only after reaching this level of skill and consistency should you have your student fly a mock flight test. The same comments apply to the mock test: the entire test must meet the standards with no input or assistance from you. None.
Don’t be averse to doing multiple mock tests until the required level of skill and confidence are achieved. You’re not trying for perfection, just a good solid performance with no major errors. It can be beneficial to have another instructor do the mock flight test. (Make sure they read this section first.)
In addition to the above comments, before sending a student to a flight test, ask yourself 2 questions: Would I rent my airplane to this person? Would I send my family flying with this person? If not, they’re not ready.
For CPL candidates:
A Commercial Pilot License is a professional licence. Therefore, someone holding one needs to fly with professionalism. They have to be competent, confident and professional in all aspects of their flying. They must project these things to passengers, employers and supervisors. They need to keep all the balls in the air, all the time.
Although the term “professionalism” does not occur in the CPL Flight Test Guide (indeed, the CPL and PPL standards are not all that different), the Flight Management and Airmanship sections on page 6 and 7 of the FTG are good places to start in assessing whether a candidate measures up. Even if a CPL candidate meets the Performance Criteria section for each flight test item and doesn’t exceed 4 items scored as 2, an examiner may fail the candidate if he or she feels the candidate isn’t ready to fly in a professional capacity. The examiner will cite the Flight Management and Airmanship sections as justification. These areas are specifically addressed in the 4-Point Marking Scale section on page 9.
Before sending a CPL candidate for a flight test, ask yourself this: Could I write and sign a letter of reference for this person with a clear conscience? If not, they’re not ready.
For Instructor Rating candidates:
It only takes 30 hours of flight time and 25 hours of ground time to get an instructor rating (far less than a PPL). Does this mean an instructor rating is easy to get? No! While basic instructional techniques are not that hard to master for a class 4 level (hence the low hourly requirements), other things are often not given enough importance and candidates are sent for flight tests before mastering them. They are these:
Stick and rudder skills. A candidate must fly the aircraft with no major errors while giving instruction on their flight test. Actually, they shouldn’t even start training until they can fly to that standard, but that is almost never the case. I don’t let my students attempt an instructor rating flight test until they can fly every PPL and CPL flight test item to a level of 4. No kidding. They’re going to be flight instructors. They should have excellent hands and feet. A bunch of minor errors has no place in someone in a mentoring position. If someone consistently flies with frequent minor errors on a normal day, then the stress of flight test day can easily tip them over the edge into major error territory and cause a failure. Practice practice practice. Your student must fly with competence and confidence. See the discussion on CPL above.
Aeronautical knowledge. Aerodynamics specific to each maneuver, CARs, AIM etc. should all be thoroughly understood. A large reserve of knowledge should be present and easily called upon. The examiner will probe the level of knowledge. The “deer-in-the-headlights” look is undesireable.
Standards knowledge. The candidate should be intimately familiar with the Flight Test Guides for PPL, CPL and Instructor Rating, especially Performance Criteria for each and every flight test item.
Operational knowledge. The POH and FTM should be all but memorized. The candidate should be able to state procedures, speeds, techniques and limitations without hesitation, and be thoroughly familiar with aircraft systems.
The candidate should be able to discuss all of these areas without errors and with confidence. Instructional technique suffers greatly when knowledge isn’t top-shelf, causing stammering, hesitation, uncertainty and errors that may lead to a failure.
The Class 2 Upgrade flight test:
The class 2 upgrade is unlike any flight test you will have taken so far. On this flight test, you will start by demonstrating your knowledge of CFI responsibilities and supervisory duties, detailing your plan for supervising a staff of instructors, and discussing how you would maintain operational control at an FTU.
From there, the flight test becomes a problem solving exercise. Different examiners may handle this flight test differently, but expect it to look something like this: After your CFI and supervisory knowledge have been assessed, you will be given a scenario, for example:
“You are the new CFI at a school with 5 instructors of various classes and experience levels. Upon assuming your duties, you noticed that on previous PPL and CPL flight tests, exercise 22 (forced approach) has been assessed as a 1 or 2 on 8 of the last 10 flight tests. Your assignment: solve the problem.”
You will be given some time to develop an action plan to address the issue. This will lead into a ground lesson and a PGI, followed by a flight lesson. There is no right or wrong approach to this. You may take a top-down approach, interviewing your instructors and flying with them, seeing how they fly the maneuver. Or you may take a bottom-up approach, flying with student pilots. You might simply go on a fact-finding mission, gathering information by sitting in on briefings and riding along on flight lessons. Depending on your action plan, during the teaching portions of the flight test, you may put the examiner into the role of either a student pilot or a staff instructor. You will either end up re-teaching the maneuver to the student pilot, or demonstrating to your hapless line instructor how you want this exercise to be taught. Either may need significant intervention to address issues in their flight performance. Expect the examiner to make complex errors that require extensive experience and some head-scratching to diagnose.
There will also be impromptu teaching exercises, flight proficiency maneuvers and student performance analysis tasks as in any other instructor rating flight test.