Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs
Regular readers know I am an unabashed fan girl when it comes to Apple’s array of iDevice technologies. I love the way I can pick up an iDevice and find that “it just works” without much effort on my part. I intuitively know how to use it. It seamlessly moves data from one gadget to another. In addition, Mr. Jobs and his chief designer, Jony Ive, worked to make products that are appealing from an aesthetic standpoint. Apple sales data shows that this integrated approach to technology design is a hit with global consumers.
The Apple Test
Along with a diverse and highly-qualified group of aviation industry experts, we in the FAA Flight Standards Service are hoping that our integrated “it just works” approach to enhancing the Practical Test Standards (PTS) will be a hit in the aviation training community starting this June.
Since 2011, the FAA has been working with industry on the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) framework, which is essentially a souped-up version of the PTS. It adds task-specific knowledge and risk management elements to each PTS Area of Operation and Task.
The ACS started as a long overdue effort to fix the airman knowledge tests, which were roundly criticized for being disconnected from, well, everything. Too many knowledge test questions were outdated or irrelevant to the knowledge and skill needed to operate in today’s National Airspace System (NAS). The ever-lengthening list of “special emphasis” items was not connected to any PTS Area of Operation or Task. And since there was no clearly defined standard for knowledge or risk management, there was no structured way to keep standards aligned with guidance handbooks and test questions, or with the practical test.
That all changed when our industry partners — collaborating with us through a series of formal Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee working groups — recommended that we explicitly define the necessary knowledge and risk management elements for each certificate and rating, and add them to the skill elements in the PTS.
The ACS provides seamless functionality in several ways. It clearly defines what an applicant must know (aeronautical knowledge), consider (risk management), and do (skill) to pass the knowledge and practical tests for a certificate or rating. It connects knowledge and risk management to specific skills. That helps applicants, instructors, evaluators, and other stakeholders understand what the FAA expects in each phase of the certification process, and how it all works together. The ACS coding — anchored in the standard rather than in references like today’s Learning Statement Codes (LSCs) — enables the FAA to align standards for knowledge, risk management, and skill with guidance handbooks and knowledge test questions, and to maintain that alignment.
Look and Feel
The ACS also improves the look and feel aspects of certification system design. As noted, it offers a comprehensive presentation of the knowledge, risk management, and skill requirements for an airman certificate or rating. It streamlines document management by integrating the test guides (FAA-G-8082 series) and the knowledge testing authorization requirements matrix into the ACS. Once the FAA has the ability to report ACS codes on the Airman Knowledge Test Report, the ACS will eliminate the need for today’s Learning Statement Reference Guide. In addition, the ACS “defragments” PTS information by consolidating scattered material in the PTS introduction and Task notes into topic-focused appendices (e.g., “Safety of Flight”).
It Just Works
For all these reasons, the FAA participants and our industry partners believe the ACS meets the “Apple Test” for design and functionality. We are eager to make the Private Pilot-Airplane and Instrument- Airplane rating ACS available to applicants, instructors, evaluators, and other stakeholders this June, and we hope you will find that it just works — seamlessly. (FAA Safety Briefing – MayJun 2016)