New Routing

Changes to instrument standards could affect you

October 1, 2004

Think that glance up to the magnetic compass is your opportunity to peek while practicing partial-panel approaches? The FAA is onto you — mention of this smooth move is buried in the Introduction section of the practical test standards (PTS) for instrument airplane, rotorcraft, and powered lift, and the PTS gives guidance to designated pilot examiners (DPEs) to watch for excessive "consultation" of the compass during the dreaded partial-panel nonprecision approach on the checkride.

While this gem isn't new, it illustrates how it pays to read the entire PTS before you embark on a checkride or instrument proficiency check (IPC) — in which the flight instructor must put you through a representative selection of chores from the instrument PTS. And this advice goes double when the FAA announces a major update to the rules we test by.

On October 1 the new instrument PTS went into effect with changes minor but nice (a new abbreviations section) and major but understandable (a requirement for a GPS approach — in certain situations). And philosophical changes pepper the PTS as well: All the rage these days is the FAA/Industry Training Standards, or FITS. The FAA, giddy with FITS fever, wants examiners to weave scenario-based testing into every task. Though FITS is never mentioned in the PTS, this joint initiative to develop training systems for technologically advanced aircraft (TAA), such as those with electronic flight information systems ("glass cockpits"), colors updates throughout the new document.

What's New in the IFR Practical Test Standards?

  • Requires a GPS approach in aircraft so equipped.
  • Emphasizes scenario-based training.
  • Offers guidance for flight tests and IPCs in "glass cockpit" aircraft.
  • Combines basic attitude instrument flight into one task.
  • Introduces single-pilot resource management.
  • Outlines the proper use of flight simulators and flight training devices in testing.
  • Adds an abbreviations list and updates references.
  • Removes mention of the metric system.

IFR training

A wide variety of navigation systems are in play across the IFR landscape, and the updated PTS renames the approaches you're required to demonstrate using new terms. A nonprecision approach (now an NPA) can be of any flavor you have in the airplane — but if you have an approach-certified GPS navigator in the airplane or flight simulator in which you take the checkride, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in using it for an approach. The requirement speaks to you, as an applicant, but it also speaks to the DPEs out there who aren't up to speed on the basics of GPS approaches. While examiners don't need exhaustive knowledge of every magic box they see on flight tests, they do need to be comfortable enough to test a pilot's knowledge of said box. If it makes you feel better, most need to spend the same quality time with a given GPS box that you do.

Testing with electronic flight information displays (EFIDs) is addressed, by which the FAA means electronic flight information systems, integrated flight decks, and any flight instrument display that utilizes liquid-crystal or cathode-ray-tube displays. As you might expect, the FAA wants examiners to test applicants, during the Loss of Primary Instruments task, on "the abnormal or emergency procedure for the loss of the EFID appropriate to the aircraft" including, "if the aircraft is capable, total failure of the EFID, or a supporting component." The PTS also speaks to partial-panel considerations where the backup instruments are not located directly in front of the pilot in a TAA. And, you guessed it, the pilot must complete an NPA using the backup instruments, regardless of where on the panel they are located (see " The Next-Generation Instrument Rating," August Pilot).

As a streamlining move, testing for basic attitude instrument flight proficiency takes place in one catchall task (Basic Instrument Flight Maneuvers) and throughout the checkride rather than during separate tasks — a nice move taken against redundancy: "Show me straight-and-level let's intercept and track the 135 radial outbound from the Gill VOR, maintain 7,000 feet." Steep turns are gone — few use them in day-to-day IFR operations anyway.

Single-pilot resource management now appears in order to complement crew resource management in FAR parts 135 and 121 testing standards. More than an extension of cockpit organization, the requirement laid out in the Introduction asks that you know how to use air traffic control, flight service station briefers, and maintenance personnel to maintain safety of flight. Use of an autopilot and/or flight management system, if installed, also can be used to fulfill this overall goal, and applicants should expect to use these systems on the checkride if they are available. At least one NPA must be flown without the autopilot.


Already have your instrument ticket? You'll want to review the new PTS prior to an IPC, which you'll need if you haven't done the requisite six approaches and additional intercepting, tracking, and holding in the past six months, and then find another six months have slipped by. Applicants for an IPC must perform to the standards of the tasks listed within the grid on page 16 of the Introduction.

Also, scenarios come into play here as well: The instructor giving the IPC "should develop scenarios to assess the pilot's aeronautical decision making and risk management skills...." That's hardly new. If an instructor has ever asked you to plan an IFR flight and then asked what procedure you would follow if you lost communications at a certain point on that route, you've participated in scenario-based training. Good CFIs have been training students using scenarios for years, and good examiners have followed up with these questions on practical tests. But the FAA is making it official, and that's not such a bad thing.

Clean up

The rest of the changes are mostly housekeeping. The FAA has refined the table outlining the proper use of flight training devices and flight simulators during checkrides and IPCs. It has also updated reference materials and technology language to reflect the state of the art.

Ah, yes, there's one more thing: The FAA finally ditched that die-hard reference to the metric system. Some things just resist changing, you know.

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