FAA Practical Test
John W Beck, PhD, ATP, DPE


About the Practical Test

Each practical test is conducted in accordance with the FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS) or Practical Test Standards (PTS) for the specific airman certificate. Copies of the applicable standard can be obtained from the FAA PTS website or the FAA ACS website (more recent).

This website is designed to help an applicant for an airman's certificate prepare for the test and assure that they are compliant with the regulations, guidance, and standards.

Special Emphasis Items

  1. Pilot in Command:
    1. You are the Pilot in Command!
    2. I am an observer.
    3. However, the DPE may assume control of the aircraft if safety is in doubt.
  2. Transfer of Controls: We expect a positive transfer of flight controls -
    1. You have the flight controls.
    2. I have the flight controls.
    3. You have the flight controls.
  3. Collision Avoidance: Throughout ground and flight maneuvers, constantly scan for traffic -
    1. Looking for reported traffic takes precedence over test.
    2. Clearing the area must be done before maneuvers.
    3. The lack of scanning, looking, and clearing the area is unsatisfactory performance.
    4. Unless announced, consider any failures as being real and treat accordingly.
  4. Simulated Emergencies and Failures:
    1. Any simulated emergency will be prefaced by the word "simulated."
    2. For example, "Simulated alternator failure."
    3. You are expected to follow the correct procedure and checklist.
    4. Simulated engine failures will be accomplished by reducing power.
    5. For simulated system failures, perform appropriate checklist then point to items.
    6. Do not physically move switches, knobs, or controls unless told to do so.
  5. Actual Emergencies:
    1. In a real engine failure, use me as a resource and ask me to do anything.
    2. The same applies for any other emergency or failure.
    3. The test ends in the case of a real emergency or failure; and, we will address it properly.
    4. If the emergency is addressed properly, the result is a Letter of Discontinuance; otherwise, it may result in a Notice of Disapproval.
  1. Pre-test Issues:
    1. Improper or missing sign-offs or endorsements.
    2. Minimum times or distances are not compliant with the regulations.
  2. Oral Scenario Overview: We will follow the ACS though some items can be prepared prior to the test -
    1. Pilot Logbooks: Assure that your records meet the prerequisite requirements (Pilot > Prerequisites > [select AcS])
    2. Aircraft Logbooks: It is easy to use post-its to identify the following -
      1. When was the last inspection (e.g., annual) performed?
      2. When is the next inspection due?
      3. When is the next Life Limited Part (e.g., engine, propeller) due?
      4. When is the next Airworthiness Directive (AD) due?
      5. Be prepared to the above items in the aircraft logs.
    3. Flight Plan: A departure and destination airport will be provided the night before.
      1. Prepare and file a flight plan, be ready to show your work.
      2. Prepare a weight and balance, be ready to show your work.
    4. Weather: Get a good weather briefing and be prepared to discuss the weather.
  3. Decisions: You are the PIC and are responsible for making decisions. Here are a few tips that are emphasized during practical tests for all certificates, ratings, and 135/121 checkrides:
    1. Weather: If you choose to fly in weather conditions that will prevent you from achieving minimum standards, the examiner must give you an unsatisfactory. Choose a day with suitable weather and reschedule as soon as you determine the weather is unsuitable. Weather is a topic that experienced pilots devote attention to prior to every flight, considering thunderstorms, icing conditions, low ceilings and visibility are potential for a no-go decision.
    2. Aircraft: Know your aircraft. The data provided in the Aircraft Form may be verified by the DPE prior to the test. You will be expected to know the airplane, procedures, annunciators, emergency procedures, memory items, systems, and V-speeds. Some of us seasoned pilots will make a quick reference sheet that includes the memory items and V-speeds for periodic reference and review. Now is a good time to start this habit.
    3. Briefings: A thorough briefing is important. You are expected to know the weather, airport, facilities, NOTAMs, and anything that will affect the safety of your flight. If one of these elements affects your flight, notify the DPE as soon as possible. You can make a bad first impression if an airport closure NOTAM on your planned route is issued two days before the practical test and you call to reschedule the morning of the test.
  4. Checklists: The best method for operating is to follow a "flow" and then use the checklist to assure everything is complete. In an emergency situation, any memory items must be performed as soon as possible and followed by the use of the appropriate checklist. Failure to properly use the checklist will result in an unsatisfactory result.
  5. Traffic Avoidance: You are responsible for assuring the area is clear prior to and during any maneuvers. Clearing turns are required; however, a steep turn can be considered a clearing turn for the next maneuver. You are responsible for scanning for traffic during all maneuvers, except when a view-limiting device is being used. Suspending a maneuver by the DPE for traffic during the use of a view-limiting device can be followed by resuming or repeating the maneuver and directed by the DPE. If the pilot sees traffic during a maneuver, point to the traffic, say "traffic" (or state the relative bearing in terms of a clock face), and take action to avoid the traffic. Failure to do so will result in an unsatisfactory result.
  6. Scanning Instruments: In addition to scanning for traffic, scan the instruments. A common problem is fixating or omitting an instrument in your scan. The result will be poor control of altitude or heading. It can also result in missing an indication of potential emergency, e.g., low oil pressure. The DPE would be wise to point this out; however, it is judgment call by the DPE to determine if it would have been missed and result in a potentially unsafe situation. If the pilot recognizes a potential emergency and decides to divert to the nearest airport then the practical test, theoretically, could result in a Letter of Discontinuance instead of a Notice of Disapproval.
  7. Radio Communications: Read CFR Part 1 Definitions and Abbreviations and AIM Section 4.2 Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques, if you have not done so already. You will need to communicate effectively with ATC. It is pretty basic but important. The practical test will include some basic communications and it may be wise to talk with ATC for flight following to further help with traffic avoidance. This is your choice.
  8. Required References: Read the Airman Certification Standards or Practical Test Standards, as applicable. Your examiner is required to test according to the ACS. If your performance is not within the specified certification standards, the outcome is unsatisfactory.
  9. Good References: Study the ASA Oral Exam Guide. This is an excellent compilation of questions and answers that many, but not all, DPE's have used at some time during their aviation career.
  10. Chart Legend: Study the chart legend applicable to your certificate and rating being sought.
  11. Pilot Say, Pilot Do: State each procedure you are performing. It provides the DPE evidence that you know what you are doing. The DPE is looking for knowledge of procedures stated in the cockpit checklist.
  12. Maneuver Briefing: State the maneuver, the procedure, and special emphasis items that apply.
  13. Phraseology: Use terminology specified in the AIM and 14 CFR Part 1. Avoid slang. Avoid wordiness. Be professional.
  14. Emergency Checklists: State and follow the memory items in the event of a simulated (or actual) emergency. When able, follow up with the emergency checklist.
  15. WINGS Credit: Get WINGS credit for your practical test. Click on WINGS Common Certification Activities - Credit Request and select the appropriate practical test for which you want credit.
Tabletop Briefing
  1. Test Overview:
    1. FAA Practical Test IAW the applicable ACS.
    2. If any task is unsatisfactory, the practical is unsatisfactory.
    3. You may continue if you wish and you will be given credit for tasks performed satisfactorily.
    4. I will be using a Plan of Action to make sure everything gets covered.
    5. I will be taking notes for the debrief.
    6. Perfection is not the standard.
    7. Oral questioning will continue throughout the test.
    8. If you do not know, say you do not know and be prepared to find the answer; the test is open book.
    9. If you do not understand a question, ask me to rephrase.
    10. Three possible outcomes are:
      1. Temporary Airman Certificate - Valid for 120 days.
      2. Letter of Discontinuance - 60 days to complete.
      3. Notice of Disapproval.
    11. Outcome Details:
      1. Notice of Disapproval will be issued for Unsatisfactory Performance:
        1. Failing to clear the area before a maneuver.
        2. Failing to scan and maintain awareness of traffic.
        3. Exceeding aircraft limitations.
        4. Examiner intervention.
        5. Inappropriate emergency procedures.
        6. Outcome of the maneuver being seriously in doubt.
        7. Poor judgement.
        8. Maneuver is not within approved standards.
        9. Consistently exceeding tolerances defined in the objective.
        10. Failure to take prompt corrective action when tolerances are exceeded.
      2. Continue/discontinue if task is unsatisfactory:
        1. We may continue after an unsatisfactory performance if you wish.
        2. You get credit for tasks performed correctly.
        3. You will need to schedule a retest to complete the tasks that were unsatisfactory.
      3. Repeat Performance: Circumstances under which a maneuver may be repeated:
        1. Discontinuance of the Maneuver: A maneuver may be discontinued for a valid safety reason (i.e., aircraft fails to exit the runway in a timely manner).
        2. Collision Avoidance: A maneuver may be interrupted to avoid other traffic that you could not have seen due to a view limiting device or other factors.
        3. Misunderstood Requests: A maneuver may be interrupted due to a misunderstanding of my request; however, not due to misunderstanding how to perform a maneuver.
        4. Other Factors: A maneuver may be repeated if I am distracted so that I cannot adequately observe your performance, such as conflicting traffic or ATC instructions.
      4. Letter of Discontinuance: In the event that the practical test cannot be completed, a Letter of Discontinuance will be issued. This is useful in case weather deteriorates, there is a mechanical problem, or other unexpected events occur.
      5. Temporary Airman's Certificate: If all goes as expected, you will get a temporary airman's certificate that is good for 120 days. Your permanent certificate will likely come from the FAA much sooner.
  2. The national average for successfully completing a practical test the first time is about 77% for private pilots.
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