Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Tag: FAA

Another Problem With Flight Instruction

There has been something of an uproar lately about the FAA changing questions in the knowledge test bank for a couple of their tests without telling anybody. Taking a written test.

It seems that this has resulted in an increase in the failure rate for those tests.  AOPA and NAFI, among others, are complaining to the FAA that the changes are unfair. Hmm.

The tests with the changes in the question bank are for the Fundamentals of Instruction (FOI), Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) and Flight Engineer (FE) ratings.  The AOPA website has an article about the changes with the following quote:

AOPA is not opposed to changes in the knowledge test bank; however, those changes must be coordinated with those providing training for applicants, said AOPA and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) in a March 3 letter to the FAA. “Unannounced changes in evaluation standards accomplish nothing for learning; it only results in increased student failures, lost time, travel expense and an extra $140 – $150 paid by the students to retake the exam,” said the letter from Kristine Hartzell, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs and Jason Blair, NAFI’s executive director.

OK, I can see that it is AOPA’s job to try and protect pilots from unnecessary costs, etc. But they have also been complaining about the fatal accident rate and the poor condition of the flight instruction industry.

Question: Why would changing the questions in the test bank cause more test failures if the students were being taught the material to the proper level of understanding?

If we are taught to the Correlation Level (refer to the FOI manual if that is an unfamiliar term), a change in the wording of the questions or the questions themselves should have no effect – we know the material well enough to answer correctly. Do you think that maybe we’re just learning what we have to learn in order to pass the test? I admit to studying the material and then getting the test bank and studying only the correct answer. We’ve probably all been there. But is that what we really should be doing?

The FOI information is pretty dull for a pilot – not much ‘real’ aviation in there. But that’s not the purpose of the test – that test is required in order to become a Flight Instructor. It is probably the only information/instruction that we will ever get on how to be a teacher. It sounds like we’re not learning the material very well – and the quality of flight instruction complaints in the recent surveys seem to bear this out.

Isn’t the ATP rating supposed to be the PhD of aviation ratings? Aren’t the pilots who hold that rating supposed to be the most knowledgeable and experienced of all of us? Shouldn’t someone testing for that rating be able to correlate the information well enough to correctly answer at least 70% of the questions on the test?

The FAA publishes the subject matter that they feel is required for the various ratings (14 CFR Part 61). They are limited to testing only those subjects. They publish a Learning Statement Reference Guide that contains the question codes that we receive on our test results report if we miss a question. Each code has its knowledge item for the question – a specific piece of information that we are supposed to know.

We know the subject areas that are going to be tested. If we learn the material well enough, then we shouldn’t need to know the question that is going to be asked.

In any other course that you have taken, did the school or instructor give you the test questions before you took the test so that you could study them? Not in my experience. Yeah, somebody always seemed to have a file of old tests that the instructor had used – but historical results do not guarantee future success.

Bottom line: Learn the material like your life depends upon it – it does.


Added 3/16/2011:
Today Scott Spangler over at Jetwine published a post about this subject – the FAA changing the test questions. He did considerably more research into the details of the FAA actions than I did. I understand his position, but I still don’t see how it changes the need to know the subject matter not just the test questions.

The Flight Training System – Part 2

In my last article I talked about how those of us who are instructors need to provide a more professional product if we expect to attract and keep serious flight students. What can the rest of the aviation community do to build up aviation?Aviation Graduation

For one, we as pilots have to get it through our heads that we are not special – we’re just different. We’re different in that we got ‘the aviation bug’ at a point in our lives or were bitten hard enough that we made a commitment to start flight training. We’re different in that we pushed through the flight training gauntlet and were awarded the end prize of a pilot’s certificate. Yes, we are part of the very small percentage of the population who hold pilot certificates, but flying is not beyond the grasp of most people.  Douglas Bader flew in the Battle of Britain without legs, Jessica Cox is flying without arms and there is an association for deaf pilots.

We have to stop treating flying as an exclusive club. We need to stop talking in “aviation code” when we encounter another pilot in a social situation. Have you ever found yourself in a group of computer programmers or network administrators (or any other technical profession) and listened to them talking to each other? I bet that you felt lost in the conversation and like an outsider, huh ? That’s what the average non-flying person feels like when pilots get together.

Fly Professionally

If we are going to require that our instructors treat us and our training in a more professional manner, then we as pilots are going to have to do the same with our flying. Stop treating flying as if you’re driving to the store for groceries. A quote I used yesterday from an instructor in the Buffalo area referred to the fatal accident rate of general aviation and it’s relation to the general quality of instruction.

Bob Miller has been advocating for some time now both in print and through his podcast segment on ANN that the requirements for a Private Pilot certificate be raised and currency requirements be increased.

However, he [Miller] recognizes that FAA rule changes take a long time and cost a fortune, money that the agency is unlikely to allocate. And in any case, organizations like AOPA will work hard to block any such rule changes, he said. The better way is for flight schools to teach pilots to proficiency, not just to the minimum standards. All pilots should undergo annual flight reviews with high-quality instructors. And insurance companies should promote these ideas, just as the insurance industry helped drive corporate aviation (business jets and turboprops) accident rates to historic lows via stringent recurrent training requirements. “We’re trying to build a desire to become better pilots,” he said. “This will save your life.”

My reaction to his quote is why we, the training segment of aviation, are not training to proficiency already? Miller’s cry is that we aren’t training long enough for a pilot to be truly proficient in today’s aviation environment.

Yes, the accident numbers are there and unwavering. Why hasn’t the FAA done something about it? The Nall Report for the 2010 accident rate is not yet available, so I looked at the reports for 2008 and 2009.

The 2009 report stated that 50% of the accidents involved pilots with a Private Pilot certificate (36% of the pilot population). Another 12% of the accidents involved pilots with Student or Sport Pilot certificates or their rating was unknown or they didn’t have a certificate at all. That leaves 37% of the accidents involving pilots with a commercial license or better.

The 2008 report said that on their last medical application 71% of the private pilots claimed less than 500 hours of total experience while 15% claimed over 1000 hours experience.  Who knows how accurate the numbers are, but this implies that almost 30% of the private pilots have over 500 hours of flight time.

If you think about all these numbers a while you come to the conclusion that a large percentage of the accidents involve pilots who have been out of training for a considerable period of time. Increasing the time required for a license will not result in a change in these numbers unless the pilots treat their flying in a professional manner.

That means recurring training programs, professional flight reviews, online webinars, taking part in aviation associations and using simulator time when appropriate. At the very least, fly with people who are more experienced than you and honestly ask for their opinion of your abilities. Flying is not like riding a bike. You get rusty and you lose your ‘air sense’ if you stay out of the air.

The Bottom Line

We all, as a pilot group, have to start taking responsibility for our own actions. The general aviation industry is only going to turn around when we can show all the non-pilots out there that aviation has something to offer that is better than what they are doing and is worth their time, money and effort. Flying is a total mystery to most of the people out there. Invite them in, show them the benefits – and be professional about it.

the Flight training System, Part 1

A Day Off, But Not Really

This leg was a bit easier than usual and was a change to my originally bid pattern. [Oops, I just read that I’m supposed to refer to these series of flights I work  as “rotations” now, not patterns – part of the standardization of  the two merging airline’s terminology. Oh,  the changes just keep rolling along.] Anyway, this rotation originally had me working the flight from Manila to Tokyo, however  a few days before I left home I was notified of a change to my schedule that had me deadheading this leg.  The notice just hadn’t told me why I had been given the change.Airline Passenger - davitydave: http://www.flickr.com/people/dlytle/

It turns out that the captain I have been paired with has been training to become an OE instructor. That’s an Operating Experience instructor, the person who gives you ‘real world’ training after you have completed your simulator training. (I talked a bit about our simulator and flight training program in a previous post.)  At the completion of the OE legs the same instructor usually switches hats and becomes a line check airman who administers the new pilot a line check. If the line check is completed successfully, the check airman certifies that the  pilot is qualified in the new position and releases him/her to begin flying regularly scheduled trips rotations. Now we get to the fun part. In order for a new OE instructor to become line check airman qualified, he must administer a line check to a new captain while he is, in turn,  being evaluated by an FAA inspector. This is commonly referred to as a daisy chain – an evaluation being administered to someone administering an evaluation. The only way it could become more convoluted is if the FAA inspector were receiving an initial qualification evaluation from their supervisor at the same time. Yes, I’ve seen it happen….and it gets really ugly.

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