by Kevin D. Murphy
This is the first of three easy-to-understand articles on the new Airman Certification Standards, which are replacing the venerable Practical Test Standards. You'll find these articles in each month's SAFE eNews, as well as in the SAFE blog at SAFE Education Opportunities
A SAFE INITIATIVE
In 2011, SAFE chaired a landmark gathering in Atlanta of major GA stakeholders to discuss lack of growth, decreased student starts, increased student attrition, and flat accident rate trends
or more information on this ground breaking symposium, click here -- Ed.]
One of the six projects recommended by this symposium was modernization of the FAA's Training Doctrine and Standards.
The FAA, as an active participant in the symposium, recognized the challenges with the current knowledge tests.
"Unfortunately, many view the knowledge test as deeply flawed because it has historically included too many questions that are overly broad, overly complex, trivial, outdated, and sometimes irrelevant. Consequently, the knowledge test is often regarded as a rote memorization exercise that has no real value for aviation safety education and training, and little (if any) connection to real world operations in today's National Airspace System (NAS)." (*)
Additionally, the sources of information used to prepare for the tests didn't always agree, especially in areas involving risk management. The FAA appointed an advisory group of SAFE members, GA groups, industry members and government officials to fix the problems. The new Airman Certification Standards are the result.
WHAT IS ACS?
The new ACS tells an applicant much more clearly what he or she must know, do and consider to pass both the knowledge and practical tests. Over the next several years, the Airman Certification Standards will replace today's Practical Test Standards.
The new ACS adds task-specific knowledge and risk management elements to each part of the former PTS. The ACS documents are being written now, and eventually there will be one for each certificate and rating. Draft versions for both the Private Pilot - Airplane and Instrument Rating - Airplane CS are available at
For checkrides, use of the more-specific ACS documents are expected to reduce subjective judgment on the part of examiners.
SOURCES OF ACS
One of the objectives of the ACS system is to make sure study guides and references commonly used by students in preparing for a knowledge test or checkride are consistent not only with test questions, but with each other as well. So far, the FAA has reviewed the
Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge,
Airplane Flying Handbook, Risk Management Handbook, Instrument Flying Handbook, Instrument Procedures Handbook, and
CT-8080 test supplements.
In the next editions of these and other handbooks and manuals, the FAA will incorporate many industry recommendations to make sure they agree with each other and with test questions.
IS ACS REALLY AN IMPROVEMENT?
Of course. Would the FAA implement anything for pilots that wasn't an improvement?
The skill evaluation requirements in the ACS remain the same as in the PTS, but ACS improves the process by:
- Better defining knowledge needed and flight proficiency standards (skills).
- Clearly answers the "why do I need to know that?!" question in each portion of the test.
- Defines specific safety behaviors instead of the amorphous "aeronautical decision-making."
- Eliminates duplicate or overlapping tasks in the current PTS.
WHERE CAN I SEE EXAMPLES OF THE NEW ACS?
There is a short ACS brochure with examples of knowledge test subjects keyed to exact references in handbooks
Drafts of both the Private Pilot and Instrument Rating ACS documents are available on the FAA's web site
WHEN WILL THE NEW ACS BE IMPLEMENTED?
The FAA is targeting June of 2016 as the start for the Private Pilot Airplane ACS, as well as the Commercial Pilot Airplane and Instrument Rating Airplane ACS. Don't be surprised if this date slips however, because this represents a massive change in the FAA's testing system.
The ACSs for Authorized Instructor and Airline Transport Pilot are still in development.
Next month: How will the new ACS change knowledge and flight check preparation for my students?