I often get asked on what areas do I see people struggle the most. While performance can vary greatly from geographic region to flight schools to airplanes, I do see some common themes that make the exams more challenging for the applicants, and have even resulted in notices of disapproval. I am creating a blog to highlight some “hot spots” where applicants struggle.
- The #1 issue that I see comes from EFBs. Most of my applicants use an EFB. They often flight plan their cross country on it, and use it for the oral exam when I ask questions. However, while most of them can navigate to a point, often times the applicant doesn’t know how to use functions other than looking up frequencies or navigating. For example, when someone plans a cross country on their EFB through a restricted area or MOA, I often ask them the altitudes and hours of the airspace, in addition to any requirements to fly through it. This has often stumped the applicant, not realizing that holding their finger on it will give them the answer most of the time. Often times I see them revert back to paper charts in this instance. Additionally, locating the AF/D, locating weather charts on the EFB and layers to show SIGMET/AIRMET, and finding regulations are some of the other top areas that people struggle with. The DPE recommendation: If you plan to use an EFB, know how to use it!
- Another top issue that I see comes from only having a rote understanding of a topic. The ACS is specifically designed to be scenario based. Most people can answer a question when asked directly, such as how many landings do you need to be current. However, when presented with a scenario, they struggle to come up with the answer. While the published oral exam guides are great, insist that your CFI (or if you are a CFI) ask you scenario based questions instead of just asking for a regulatory answer.
- Understanding maintenance and PIC responsibility. Most applicants can answer questions such as what inspections are required, but there seems to be a general lack of understanding that while PIC, you are responsible for airworthiness. Sometimes the applicant has never seen an airplane logbook until the day of the test. An FAA Safety Briefing put it so elegantly: “Who is responsible for the airworthiness of an aircraft? It is tempting to say it’s the mechanic who worked on the airplane, but in fact, 14 CFR 91.403(a) says the owner/operator is primarily responsible for maintaining the aircraft in an airworthy condition. This includes Airworthiness Directive (AD) compliance, and 14 CFR section 91.7 says no person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition.”
These are just a few trends that I’ve seen from oral exams, and I will publish more on the flight portion shortly. One of the biggest ways to impress your examiner and set the mood for the exam is to come prepared and follow all instructions on what to do/bring! Chasing down paperwork or showing up without a flight plan completed are ways to show that you’re not ready for a practical exam!
Sarah is currently a Designated Pilot Examiner, FAA Safety Team Lead Representative, NAFI Master Instructor, Gold Seal flight instructor, and 737 pilot for a Major U.S. airline. Sarah holds an ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI and has flown over 7300 hours. She holds a pilot license in 4 different countries (USA, Canada, Belize and Iceland – EASA) and has flown over 150 different types of airplanes in 25 different countries including oceanic crossings in small aircraft. She continues to stay involved in general aviation through her leadership roles and volunteering for different aviation organizations. Although much of her flying is now professional in nature, she enjoys flying her Super Cub, Patches, on her days off. As a regular attendee of Oshkosh and local fly-ins, she enjoys the company and camaraderie that general aviation brings and is passionate about aviation safety and flight training.