High on the list of benefits from learning to fly is the ability to exercise the privileges of your pilot certificate to go places – to lift off, point the compass at some other part of the country, and explore locales inaccessible or impractical to reach by car.
For this reason, the knowledge and skills needed for cross-country flying have always been an integral part of the pilot certification process. You’ll find the required subject areas for each certificate and rating listed in 14 CFR part 61, along with aeronautical experience requirements. The Practical Test Standards (PTS) include skill tasks specific to cross-country flying along with performance metrics for each one.
The presentation of this material is getting significantly better. Based on recommendations and a great deal of hard work by a diverse group of aviation industry experts, the FAA is building the foundation for transition from today’s skill-focused PTS to the integrated Airman Certification Standards (ACS) format. You can read about the ACS in detail by visiting the FAA Airman Testing and Training web page, but here’s the bottom line: The ACS enhances the PTS by adding the specific elements of aeronautical knowledge and risk management needed to support each Area of Operation/Task.
Here’s how the ACS framework integrates the knowledge, flying skills, and risk management abilities to improve pilot training and testing in terms of the people, the plane, and the plan for GA cross-country travel.
As in the PTS, Preflight Preparation is the first Area of Operation (AOO) in the private pilot airplane ACS. Two of the tasks in this AOO are specific to the pilot. The first ACS task is Pilot Qualifications, a more focused presentation of pilot-related material in the PTS Certificates and Documents task. Its objective is “to determine that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, skills, and risk management associated with airman and medical certificates including privileges, limitations, currency, and operating as pilot-in-command (PIC) as a private pilot.” In the risk management section of this task, you’ll find topics such as distinguishing currency from proficiency, setting personal minimums, and maintaining fitness to fly.
The second pilot-related task is Human Factors. The elements of this task are designed to “determine that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, skills, and risk management associated with personal health, flight physiology, and aeromedical and human factors, as it relates to safety of flight.”
Still in the Preflight Preparation AOO, the ACS has three tasks associated with preparing the plane: Airworthiness Requirements, Performance and Limitations, and Operation of Systems. A key cross-country related knowledge task element in Performance and Limitations is understanding of “elements related to performance and limitations (takeoff and landing, crosswind, tailwind and headwind, density altitude, glide performance, weight and balance, climb, cruise, descent, powerplant considerations) by explaining the use of charts, tables, and data to determine performance.” A risk management element in the same task requires evaluation of “published aircraft performance data as it relates to expected performance.”
The remaining tasks in the ACS Preflight Preparation AOO concern the plan. These include Weather Information, Cross-Country Flight Planning, and National Airspace System (NAS). Elements in the NAS task include the ability to “determine the requirements for flying in particular classes of airspace,” and to “properly identify airspace and operate accordingly with regards to communication and equipment requirements.” In another example, the Weather task requires the ability to “correlate available weather information to make a competent go/no-go or diversion decision.”