Ten Things Instructors Need to Know about Using the Airman Certification Standards (ACS)
By now, you probably know the most basic facts on the Airman Certification Standards (ACS), which first began to replace the practical test standards (PTS) in June 2016. Just to recap:
- The ACS is an enhanced version of the PTS that adds task-specific knowledge and risk management elements to the skill elements in each PTS Area of Operation and It provides a single-source set of standards for what an applicant must know, consider, and do to pass both the knowledge exam and the practical test.
- The ACS results from six years of extensive and continuing collaborative work by FAA Flight Standards employees and a diverse group of aviation industry training experts.
- In June 2016, the FAA replaced the PTS for Private Pilot-Airplane and the Instrument- Airplane rating with the corresponding ACS. In June 2017, the FAA published the first version of the Commercial Pilot-Airplane ACS, along with revised versions of the ACS for the Private Pilot-Airplane certificate and the Instrument-Airplane rating.
Now let’s look at some specific questions.
- I’m an instructor. How do I use the ACS?
You do need to carefully read the entire document (including the ACS Introduction and the appendices) to understand how it all works together. In general, though, you use the ACS just as you used the PTS, but the ACS provides more information. The ACS guides you in teaching and training an applicant on everything he or she must know, consider, and do to pass the knowledge test and the practical test. The presentation of risk management elements will help you better develop and deepen the applicant’s understanding of how knowledge, risk management, and skill elements work together for safe performance of each task, both for the certification tests and during “real-world” operation later on.
- How does the ACS affect the way I teach ground school?
If you are using the ACS as a guide to your syllabus and curriculum content, anyone you teach in a ground school course will be very well prepared to pass the knowledge test. If your applicants have taken the FAA knowledge test for the Private Pilot Airplane certificate, the Commercial Airplane certificate, or the Instrument Airplane rating in the last year, they have actually taken an “ACS knowledge test,” because the FAA has already aligned all active knowledge test questions for these airman qualifications with the corresponding ACS.
When you are preparing an applicant for the knowledge test, be sure to cover all the elements — knowledge, risk management, and skill. While the knowledge test is primarily focused on elements in the “K” and “R” sections, there are also questions that ask an applicant to “calculate” or “determine” some value. The FAA assigns a skill (“S”) code to questions of this nature.
- How does the ACS change the way I conduct flight training?
In most cases, the ACS does not change the expectations or values for acceptable performance of PTS skills tasks and maneuvers. You should use the knowledge and risk management elements in each task to ensure that the applicant fully understands each maneuver but, since the ACS does not change the expectations or values for acceptable performance of PTS skills, tasks, and maneuvers in most cases, there will be no major change in how you teach stick and rudder skills.
The exception is in the Slow Flight and Stalls Area of Operation of the ACS for Private Pilot Airplane and Commercial Pilot Airplane, so please pay special attention to these tasks. You should also be familiar with FAA Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 17009, Airman Certification Standards (ACS): Slow Flight and Stalls (go.usa.gov/xN6WP).
- How does the FAA keep the testing of risk management items from being subjective?
Risk management is unique to each and every individual, but the ACS defines the circumstances, conditions, or risks applicable to each task, not to the specific operator. Applicants will thus be tested on their awareness and mitigation of the risks associated with the task at hand, which includes consideration of these elements in the context of the maneuver itself plus the pilot’s experience and ability, the aircraft used, and the operating environment.
The PTS also required evaluation of these items, but it offered little more than a statement of the requirement and, in the case of “Special Emphasis” items, a list of subjects the DPE must evaluate. The ACS provides better guidance because it provides specific risk management and Aeronautical Decision-Making procedures and behaviors associated with each task, and it incorporates Special Emphasis items in the risk management section of the appropriate Area of Operation/Task. This presentation helps instructors make stick and rudder skills more meaningful by teaching them in the context of what the applicant must know and consider while demonstrating flight skills. On the practical test, it allows the evaluator to see and assess an applicant’s judgment and decision making in the context of actual flight operations.
For the knowledge exam, both the FAA and the industry ACS Working Group members have reviewed ACS task elements to ensure that the FAA has guidance to support them, and the FAA is careful to verify that the agency has an appropriate reference for each knowledge test question that we review or develop.
- What’s the story on ACS codes?
The ACS assigns a unique code to each knowledge, risk management, and skill task element. These codes provide the means to correlate the tasks in the ACS with guidance and testing, and to keep them aligned going forward. As soon as the technical capability comes online, the ACS codes will supersede the current system of “PLT” Learning Statement Codes (LSC).
The ACS coding system has four elements that are anchored in the ACS (i.e., in the standard itself, not in reference documents like the current LSCs).
PA = Applicable ACS (Private Pilot – Airplane)
I = Area of Operation (Preflight Preparation)
E = Task (National Airspace System)
K2 = Task element [knowledge (K), risk management (R), skill (S)] (Charting symbology)
The limitations of today’s knowledge test management system do not permit the FAA to print ACS codes in lieu of the Learning Statement, or PLT, codes. The agency is contracting for a test management services system that will include this capability. In the initial ACS implementation phase, applicants, instructors, and evaluators continue to see PLT codes on the airman knowledge test report.
- If I can’t see ACS codes on the applicant’s Airman Knowledge Test Report (AKTR), how do I conduct remedial training?
You can still use the ACS for more efficient retraining and retesting. Each ACS code is unique to a knowledge, risk management, or skill element in the standard. All active knowledge test questions for the Private Pilot Airplane certificate, the Commercial Pilot Airplane certificate, and the Instrument Airplane rating have been aligned with the applicable ACS. The PLT codes on your applicant’s airman knowledge test report will help you with more efficient retraining, because you can use them to zero in on a smaller number of ACS tasks rather than going through multiple references in an attempt to find the specific subject in which the applicant is deficient.
For example, there are at least six Learning Statement (PLT) codes that refer to airspace:
- PLT 040 Airspace classes, charts, diagrams
- PLT 161 Aircraft systems / avionics / transponder / airspace / publications / AFD / transponder operations
- PLT 162 Airspace requirements, operations
- PLT 163 Airspace requirements, visibility / cloud clearance
- PLT 376 Airspace, special use, TFRs
- PLT 393 Airspace, regulations / restrictions
The PLT codes are tied to references, and the scope for retraining and retesting is very broad. The ACS enables an instructor to narrow the scope and retrain an applicant whose Airman Knowledge Test Report includes one of these codes in the context of specific ACS tasks. For example, you can:
- Ask about airspace in the context of planning a cross-country flight (PA.I.D.K1)
- Ask about airspace as part of preflight preparation (PA.I.E.K1)
- Ask about airspace as part of preflight assessment (PA.II.A.R3)
- Ask about airspace as part of ground reference maneuvers evaluation (PA.V.B.S1)
- What is the difference between the ACS and a training syllabus?
The ACS defines what the applicant must know, consider, and do to earn an airman certificate or rating. A training syllabus defines how (where, when, and why) these standards are met.
- Does the ACS require scenario-based training and evaluation?
Yes. As stated in the ACS introduction, for appropriate items “the evaluator will assess the applicant’s understanding by providing a scenario that requires the applicant to appropriately apply and/or correlate knowledge, experience, and information to the circumstances of the given scenario.” In support of this requirement, the ACS presents specific elements of knowledge and risk management in the context of each skill task. To further assist the community in this area, industry members of the ACS project team drafted guidance for both FAA inspectors and external evaluators to provide clarity on the ‘plan of action’ and use of scenarios. See go.usa.gov/xN6Zm for details.
- When is the FAA going to expand the ACS to other certificates and ratings?
Through the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), the FAA originally asked industry to develop ACS documents for the Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, Instructor, and Airline Transport Pilot certificates and the Instrument Rating, all in the airplane category. In December 2015, the FAA added the Aircraft Mechanic Certificate with Airframe and/or Powerplant ratings to the ACS Working Group’s charter.
The ACS will eventually replace the PTS for all categories and classes. The next phase is to finish the ATP, the instructor (all in the airplane category), and the Aircraft Mechanic ACS by the end of December 2018. We will confer with our industry partners to prioritize development work beyond this point.
- What can you tell us about the Instructor ACS?
As of summer 2017, the industry members of the ACS Working Group are wrapping up work on an initial draft for the Instructor certificate (airplane category). The construction of this document should be familiar to anyone who has used the existing ACS documents, but the Instructor ACS does have some important differences. For maneuvers that the applicant is expected to be able to teach:
- The Knowledge section requires the applicant to demonstrate instructional knowledge by describing and explaining the elements of the Task as stated in the “foundational” ACS (e.g., Private Pilot Airplane or Commercial Pilot Airplane), along with common errors related to that task. The Instructor ACS thus refers to, but does not directly incorporate, Areas of Operation or tasks that the applicant is expected to teach from one of the “foundational” ACS documents.
- The Risk Management section requires the applicant to demonstrate the ability to both teach the risks arising from the elements of the referenced task in the foundational ACS, as well as manage the “instructional risks” arising from the specific training activity. (Note: An ongoing revision to the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9A) will address risk management, both in terms of teaching these concepts to applicants and in terms of managing the risks inherent in flight training.
- The Skill section requires the applicant to exhibit the ability to demonstrate and simultaneously explain the task, as well as to analyze and correct simulated common errors drawn from the Knowledge section.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach, the FAA will support the ACS Working Group’s plans for “tabletop prototype” review of the draft beginning in autumn 2017. Stay tuned! (FAA Safety Briefing SepOct 2017)