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Changes to FAA Airman Testing Standards Proposed

April 24, 2013 - The Federal Aviation Administration announced recommendations of the Airman Training Standards and Testing ARAC (Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee) on Wednesday, outlining a series of major changes to the aeronautical knowledge exam (commonly called "the written") as well as the practical test standards used in certifying private and instrument pilots.

The ARAC, which comprises several flight instruction associations, instructors, and test prep companies, will review public comments and issue its final recommendation to the FAA.

The changes emerged partly as a desire to modernize the test plus a philosophical shift from the older testing method. The outgoing written tests for private and instrument pilots featured several questions regarding the use of equipment increasingly regarded as obsolete, such as ADFs and NDBs.

"We were addressing the inadequacies of the knowledge and practical test, which were often outdated and irrelevant," said Doug Stewart, executive director of the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE). "With many of the questions, we'd ask, 'What does this do for pilot safety?'"

The new test seeks to distance itself from the old "rote learning" questions and move toward understanding and correlation. The new standards focus more on realistic, scenario-based testing.

"We are trying to do for private and instrument pilot candidates what the Part 121 operators do, which is create airman certification standards that combine knowledge, skill, and risk management in a coherent package," Stewart said. "The new test will combine the written, oral, and flying portions of the exam into an overarching, cohesive standard that addresses all of these elements."

The addition of risk management questions and tasks in the new standard is designed to increase aviation safety by encouraging pilots to think beyond the individual, limited-scope questions in the old exam and become aware of the interacting factors that ultimately determine safe flight.

Because the Federal Register notice is a request for comments rather than a rule, it is unclear exactly when the changes will be implemented for student pilots. This phase of the standards rewrite focused on private and instrument candidates, but the FAA and ATST ARAC are working toward revamping tests for all airman ratings.

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