Helpful Advice from an Examiner

The day of your checkride can be one of the most stressful days of your life. The greatest fear of any pilot is receiving a “notice of disapproval.” As a flight instructor, I have prepared and signed off many students for practical tests. As an examiner I have administered a variety of practical tests. I have taken a number of checkrides myself and know what they feel like. Through these experiences, I have observed and identified some common things that can adversely affect an applicant’s performance.

Make sure you are ready

Just because you meet the PTS standards, doesn’t mean you are ready for your checkride. If you have any doubts, fly with another instructor for a second opinion. It is always good practice to do this as a matter of course, but if you feel uncertain, ask your instructor for it. If the 2nd instructor feels you are ready it will boost your confidence and if not, it’s better to review areas the stage check instructor thought needed improvement. Whatever you do, don’t rush your checkride because of vacation or other reasons. Make sure you are ready and listen to the little voice inside you, which usually warns you if you are doing something you shouldn’t.

Relax and Take Your Time

Try to focus on the job at hand, not the possibility of failure. Take the time to think your way through questions whether on the ground or in the air. Think your way through maneuvers and ignore the fact that you are being tested. There’s no rush on a checkride.

Take the time to setup for every maneuver including clearing turns, adjusting entry speed, altitude, checking fuel tanks etc. Rushing into maneuvers regularly results in applicants missing something that could result in a checkride bust.

Remember, you are being tested on your ability to be PIC, which includes deciding how much time is enough to setup and safely complete a maneuver. Examiners are not there to fail you. In fact, they want you to succeed as much as you do. A little discussed fact is that examiners who have a reputation for failing students don’t get much business from CFIs. As long as you perform to the PTS standards, an examiner can’t fail you.

Schedule Appropriately

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and have the airplane checked and ready for the checkride well before the examiner is scheduled to arrive. Nothing starts a checkride off on a worse note than being rushed or late. Getting there at least an hour before the examiner is good practice.

Don’t Put Undue Pressure on Yourself

Having friends or family at the airport while you take your checkride is a bad idea. It will just add to the stress of the day. Likewise, avoid a checkride on any day where there’s another “must do” commitment. Schedule the whole day if you can and don’t do it on any special occasion such as your birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. Again, it just adds to an already stressful day.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Avoid the common temptation to stay up late and “cram” the night before. That will only succeed in making you tired and more likely to forget things and be confused during the practical test. Research has clearly shown that sleep deprivation significantly impairs mental performance, so make sure you follow your normal bedtime pattern the night before.

The Examiner is Only Human – Really

Most examiners are pilots who went through the same steps as you are going through so they know what a checkride feels like from your perspective. It is a good idea to meet the examiner before the checkride. An informal cup of coffee at the airport on a Saturday morning can go a long way to make you feel more comfortable.

There is No Failure Quota

Examiners are not required to fail a certain percentage of applicants. Applicants who perform at or above the minimum standards will pass, even if the previous 100 students passed as well. Remember, the examiner wants you to succeed.

Use the Examiner as a Passenger

Remember that you are being evaluated on your ability to use all available resources and this includes asking the examiner to help just as you would do with a knowledgeable passenger. The examiner will not fulfill any pilot duties for you, but if it helps, ask the examiner to do anything you would a passenger such as holding a chart or scanning for traffic.

Don’t Guess

If the examiner asks a question and you don’t know the answer, don’t fake it and guess. Just be honest and if you don’t know, say so but offer to look it up if you know where. Most examiners will allow you to look up an answer but even if they don’t you are not expected to know everything and most examiners relish the opportunity to teach you something. Faking answers will likely end up encouraging the examiner to probe more deeply if they suspect you are shooting from the hip – especially if your answers are incorrect. Remember to bring your FAR/AIM and PTS booklet to the oral, and know how to find things in them.

You Will Make Mistakes

During most checkrides, the applicant does something that could result in a failure. This doesn’t mean you will fail. It goes a long way with all examiners if you talk your way through a maneuver. By verbalizing what you are doing or intend to do, you are not only giving yourself direction, but including the examiner in your thought process. For example, if an applicant is doing a steep turn and is 100’ low and says nothing, the examiner will wonder if he has noticed. Better to verbalize the error, and make the correction, giving the examiner confidence that you are in control, even though there was an error. This verbalization goes a long way to communicating your competence.

Don’t Let the Weather Spoil Your Checkride

Too many applicants fail checkrides because they accept weather conditions that result in poor performance, even if they are otherwise capable. Just because a checkride is scheduled and the examiner expects you to show up, doesn’t mean you are somehow obligated to. High winds may be too much to handle for acceptable landings or low ceilings may not provide the minimum cloud clearances. Part of the test is to see if you can make good decisions regarding the planning and execution of your flight. Remember, if you choose to fly in weather conditions that will prevent you from achieving minimum standards, the examiner has no choice but to fail you. Better to give yourself every advantage and wait for weather that helps, not hurts your chances.

Oops, Uh-0hs, and Other Giveaways

It should seem obvious, but words such as these can cause anxiety on the part of examiners. At the very least, an “oops” will cause an examiner to look for a reason for it, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. In addition, be aware of what you tell the examiner. If for example, after requesting a short field landing, you tell the examiner it is one of your worst maneuvers, you have set up a situation where the examiner is likely to evaluate your performance even more critically than would be the case if you had said nothing. Don’t give the examiner the opportunity to expect poor performance even before you do it.

Know the Airplane

The checkride requires the applicant to determine if the airplane is airworthy enough to conduct the test. You will need to be able to show the examiner the appropriate inspections, documents, and requirements for flight. In addition, know the airplane well enough that you can easily find all switches, knobs and dials without fumbling for them. This is a dead giveaway that you are unfamiliar and shows poor planning and decision making, which again is part of the evaluation process.

Reprinted and edited from an article by Jason Blair in NAFI magazine, June 2008

Now that you know what to do during your CFI Checkride; Let’s talk about the 10 Reasons why CFI applicants FAIL the CFI Checkride.

10 Ways to Renew you CFI

10 way to renew CFI
Renew your CFI

I am working on renewing my CFI certificate and associated ratings, which are about to expire on Nov 30. It is allowed to complete the renewal process and obtain a new CFI certificate within 3 months prior to the expiration date and still retain the original expiration date (Nov 30 in this case) 2 years down.

There are 10 ways listed here to renew a CFI certificate, and at least 9 to renew before expiration. If the certificate is allowed to expire before renewal, then there is only one way; #1, by taking a practical test and get CFI Reinstatement done.

Take a practical test (checkride) –

This method is usually used by someone whose CFI has already expired, but in any case, this method is still an available option to renew unexpired CFI certificate as well. Once a CFI certificate expires, you must pass a checkride for any one rating (CFI, CFII or MEI) on the CFI certificate and renew the certificate with all the rest of the ratings as well.

Take a practical test (checkride) for an additional CFI rating –

If you do not have all the CFI ratings on your certificate, you can train and pass a checkride for an additional flight instructor rating; this will renew your CFI and associated ratings.

Maintaining 80% Pass Rate of 1st Time Recommendations –

Maintaining and demonstrating via proper documentation, first time pass rate of at least 8o% out of a minimum of 5 recommendations for a practical test in the preceding 24 month period.

Serve as a check airman in part 91, 121, 133 and 135

Demonstrating your experience evaluating other pilots may allow you to renew your CFI. Proper appointment credentials and logbook entries can be used to document such experience.

Attending and successfully completing industry sponsored Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC).

There are numerous options in this category. One may attend and complete this course in person, or online.

Attending an FAA sponsored CFI workshop.

Information and announcements about upcoming CFI workshops are made in most aviation print media, and at www.faasafety.gov.

Participating in FAA Wings program –

A CFI may utilize FAA Wings Program for CFI renewal as well. Here are the requirements – (1) be a participant in FAA Wings Program, (2) Provide 15 hours of flight training to other participating pilots (3) Sign off at least 5 other pilots for their phase of this program.

Earn Gold Seal Certification –

Maintain and demonstrate that you have over 80% first time practical test passes out of a minimum of 10 recommendations (sign-offs) in the preceding 24 calendar months. This will get you a gold seal and also renew your CFI certificate. This can only be used once in a lifetime.

Earn or renew Master CFI designation –

Earn or renew a Master CFI designation (there are 2 different programs for this)  for renewal of a CFI certificate.

Renewal based on duties and responsibilities –

In rare cases, an FAA inspector may allow a CFI to renew based on his/her duties and responsibilities within the FSDO’s jurisdiction and FAA inspector’s thorough and personal knowledge of your activities. Contact the FAA FAASTeam (Safety Team) Manager in your FSDO.

If your CFI Certificate has already expired, then read this – CFI Reinstatement

First published in 2003 by Robert Jex, CFI

Spin or No Spin for CFI initial Re-test

I have been meaning to write about this topic for a while now. Even though I think about Stall/Spin instructional proficiency each time I am teaching and signing off a new CFI initial applicant, but these 2 incidents below still intrigue me, and make me wonder which one was a correct interpretation of the FARs:
In late 90’s when I got my CFI initial, I failed Turning Power ON Stall in-flight maneuver. Not going into details of why I failed; I had to go up with the FSDO inspector in a Cessna 152 aircraft to demonstrate instructional proficiency in Stalls and Spins, as required by 14 CFR 61.183 (i)(2).
In early 2000’s I had a student who was not able to satisfactorily teach spins on the ground to another FSDO inspector (different FSDO). I think he did a fine job, but at the end of the day, the inspector was not satisfied, so the applicant failed in the Stall and Spin area. I gave additional training to the applicant, and flew with him as well, and sent him to the inspector for an in-flight spin test. The inspector refused to do the test in the airplane, and said that he can test the applicant on the ground and does not need to fly and observe in-flight spin entry/recovery etc.
Here is the excerpt from the relevant FAR (14 CFR 61.183):
“Demonstrate instructional proficiency in stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery procedures. However, upon presentation of the endorsement specified in paragraph (i)(1) of this section an examiner may accept that endorsement as satisfactory evidence of instructional proficiency in stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery procedures for the practical test, provided that the practical test is not a retest as a result of the applicant failing the previous test for deficiencies in the knowledge or skill of stall awareness, spin entry, spins, or spin recovery instructional procedures. If the retest is a result of deficiencies in the ability of an applicant to demonstrate knowledge or skill of stall awareness, spin entry, spins, or spin recovery instructional procedures, the examiner must test the person on stall awareness, spin entry, spins, and spin recovery instructional procedures in an airplane or glider, as appropriate, that is certificated for spins;”
The first FSDO’s interpretation was that the applicant has to be tested, and the test has to be in an airplane that is certificated for spins, and the “as appropriate” in the FAR is there as a distinction between an airplane or a glider. The second FSDO’s interpretation was that the test can be done either in an aircraft, or on the ground, and the “as appropriate” is there to give the inspector/dpe that discretion.
Personally, I believe that the first FSDO’s interpretation is correct. And here is some more information about Spin Training for CFI initial Training and Checkride.

Multi Engine Checkrides – DPE not required type specific LOA

Until recently, we used to have this one problem that was a nightmare to deal with. A student would show up with his/her own multi engine airplane and would ask us to train in their airplane for the CFI, CFII or MEI, or even a commercial/flight instructor combination course. In any case, the training had to be conducted in the applicant’s own multi engine airplane.
The training was never an issue. As a flight instructor with a multi engine rating, we are authorized to teach in any make/model if a light twin airplane, provided we have at least 5 hours PIC time in that make/model of airplane. With so many years of teaching in various airplanes, we usually have just about all the light twin airplanes in our logbooks, with 5 hours minimum under the PIC column. And every now and then, if a new one shows up anyways, nothing to worry. We are always so excited to learn and fly another “new” light twin anyways.
The problem that’d show up was, not being able to find a DPE who would have a Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the FAA to conduct a checkride in that make/model. Now, we’d just be stuck at the mercy of the local FSDO to schedule a ride with one of their inspectors (and with the current short staffed situation), which could be as long as a month or more in the future!
The DPEs had to obtain an LOA for each make/model; by demonstrating their skills to an FAA inspector in flight, in each make/model of light twin they wanted to conduct a checkride in. And then do an annual proficiency check in each make/model (on a rotating schedule) with the FAA. This process would discourage DPEs from having more than 2 or 3 makes/models on their LOA at any given time.
Now, their LOA allows then to conduct a checkride in ALL light twins! At last the issue is rest to peace, and the lawmakers have realized that they can look elsewhere to prevent accidents and increase safety.

CFI to teach in a Sea Plane

So what does it take for a Flight Instructor (CFI) to teach in a sea plane or amphibious airplane? Is there any special or additional training requirements? Any CFI certificate endorsement required?
The answer is simple; you are allowed to teach in any single engine airplane for which you hold pilot privileges. Your CFI certificate says – “Airplane Single Engine”. Your pilot certificate (commercial pilot) reads – “Airplane single engine land, Airplane single engine sea”. In this case you can teach in both the land and sea single engine airplanes.

Piper Cub on Floats
In other words, if you already hold a commercial pilot and a flight instructor (CFI) certificate, and you go get a single engine sea add-on rating on your commercial pilot certificate, you are authorized to teach in a sea plane or an amphibious airplane.

Foreign Flight Instructor conversion to FAA CFI

FAA CFI
Foreign Flight Instructor

Received an email this morning from someone who holds a Flight Instructor certificate (or license) in Netherlands, and also has instructor privileges in the military in his country. He wanted to know if there is a way for him to convert his Netherlands flight instructor license to a US FAA CFI certificate.

The short answer to this is; No, there is no way to convert ANY country’s flight instructor license to a US FAA CFI certificate. There are no credits or exemptions available. And the vice-versa is true as well.

However, as there are no minimum number of ground or flight training hour requirement for a CFI certificate checkride in the US, you may end up spending much lesser time in preparation for an FAA CFI checkride. Your own knowledge and skill level will determine this.

Another thing one can do to expedite the CFI certificate preparation is Self Study. The more you come prepared yourself, the easier and faster the training would be. Aerodynamics, Weather, Navigation are examples of subject areas which are common between FAA and JAA and others.

Can Flight Instructor (CFI) checkride be considered as Flight Review?

We know that all pilots are required to go through a Flight Review each 24 calendar months as required by 14 CFR 61.56 . The paragraph (d) of this regulation states:

“A person who has, within the period specified in paragraph (c) of this section, passed a pilot proficiency check conducted by an examiner, an approved pilot check airman, or a U.S. Armed Force, for a pilot certificate, rating, or operating privilege need not accomplish the flight review required by this section.”

So, whenever in the past you have taken any checkride, for instance, Instrument Rating add-on checkride, or Commercial Pilot checkride, or Multi add-on and so forth, each time your 24 month Flight Review clock was reset. Because the paragraph (d) above says so.

The question now is that whether the same will happen when you take your CFI checkride (or any flight instructor add-on rating checkride) or not. The answer is NO. It is no because:

  • the regulation says, “….passed a pilot proficiency check….”, and the flight instructor certificate is NOT a pilot certificate.
  • the regulation also says, “….for a pilot certificate, rating, or operating privilege…”, and once again, flight instructor certificate is not a pilot certificate, and CFII and MEI are not pilot certificate ratings.
  • the flight instructor or CFI checkride does not measure your piloting skills or knowledge, rather, it is an evaluation of your teaching skills.

And you’d like to hear it directly from the FAA, click here and read it for yourself. This is copy of the FAA interpretation of the 14 CFR 61.56(d), by their legal department. And here is the excerpt for a quick read:

“The answer is that a successful completion of a flight instructor practical test within the preceding 24 calendar months does not automatically relieve a pilot of the requirement to complete §61.56 flight review. A flight instructor practical test is not a pilot proficiency check for a pilot certificate, rating or an operating privilege, or any other acceptable substitute for a flight review specifically listed in § 61.56(d). A flight instructor practical test is not primarily focused on piloting skills but rather on one’s instructional skills. Thus, prima facie, it does not constitute a pilot proficiency check adequate to substitute for a flight review, as specified under § 61.56(d).”

However, if you request the DPE or the FAA inspector taking your CFI, CFII or MEI checkride, and specifically come to an agreement before the start of your checkride, in that case, with a logbook endorsement you may still get your Flight Review (or as was known as BFR) requirement taken care of.