This issue focuses on ensuring healthy pilots but, since healthy airplanes are a key component in the safety equation, the health and well-being of those who keep our airplanes airworthy and in a condition for safe flight is just as important. Broadly speaking, part of our well-being, whether we fly airplanes or maintain them, includes having the right knowledge, risk management ability, and skill to perform our respective duties.
As those in the pilot training world probably know by now, the FAA and three separate groups of aviation training industry experts have spent the last six years working to improve certification testing and training for pilots. A year ago, this team — formally known as the Airman Certification Standards Working Group (ACS WG) — responded to the maintenance training community’s plea to DO SOMETHING, NOW, to make similar updates and improvements to certification testing for aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs). The suite of exams includes three types of tests for each certificate (airframe and/or powerplant), along with a general section that covers both categories. The tests are a specific written examination, an oral exam, and a practical test.
With significant help from our industry partners on the ACS WG, the FAA is making substantial progress toward the first Airman Certification Standards (ACS) document for AMTs. By adding knowledge and risk management elements to each skill subject in today’s Practical Test Standards (PTS), the FAA and the ACS WG are defining what an applicant needs to know (knowledge), consider (risk management), and do (skill) to pass both the knowledge test (written and oral) and the certification (practical) test for an airman certificate or rating. The resulting ACS thus becomes the single source set of standards for both the knowledge and practical tests that an AMT applicant must pass in order to earn a certificate.
Full Speed Ahead
Since we first reported on this development last summer, the FAA and the industry members of the ACS WG have made substantial progress in defining and incorporating knowledge and risk management elements into the skill subjects now provided in the PTS for general, airframe, and powerplant. The first AMT ACS will not only be the single source set of standards for the knowledge and practical tests; it will also bring the knowledge, risk management, and skill standards for general, airframe, and powerplant into a single document.
Standards drive the development and/or revision of guidance (e.g., FAA H-series handbooks) and, ultimately, knowledge test questions that align with both standards and guidance. While the FAA does not — indeed, cannot — share the development or revision of knowledge test questions with industry, the agency does rely on the ACS WG members’ expertise to develop the standards (i.e., the ACS for each certificate/rating) and to revise the supporting handbooks and other guidance materials used for teaching and training. So, in addition to transforming the standards, the ACS team has dedicated many hours to developing recommendations to update the FAA H-series handbooks for mechanics and using public data (e.g., sample knowledge tests), to identify topics and types of test questions that need to be changed — revised or, in some cases, deleted entirely.
As any training or practicing AMT knows, aircraft maintenance is a fast moving, rapidly changing field that demands constant work to keep up with developments like “glass cockpit” avionics and composite materials. Given how critical aircraft maintenance is to safety, the airman certification system that trains, tests, and certificates AMTs has to do the same. The ACS format will help the FAA and its industry partners achieve this goal by ensuring that future AMTs benefit from its integrated presentation of knowledge, risk management, and skill standards which, by being up-to-date and fully aligned with guidance materials and knowledge test questions, will greatly enhance the foundational health of the aviation maintenance industry. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulAug2017)