Magnetic compass requirement dropped from private pilot task

June 12, 2013

The FAA has reworded a navigation task in the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards (PTS) for Airplanes (FAA-S-8081-14B) to allow applicants to train and take their flight tests in aircraft equipped with magnetic direction sensing systems other than a magnetic compass.

The action, explained in a note added May 30 to the current version of the PTS, will spare some flight training operators thousands of dollars in added costs to install compasses in training aircraft.

The problem arose after an element of the pilotage and dead reckoning task was changed in the current version of the PTS—without explanation—specifying that a magnetic compass be used to demonstrate turns to a heading.

AOPA pointed out to the agency that the specific mention of the magnetic compass reduced the utility of certain training aircraft and limited student pilots’ options at flight schools providing private pilot training in aircraft equipped with new, technically advanced, magnetic direction sensing systems, said David Oord, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs.

One such aircraft is the Cessna 162 Skycatcher.

“The Skycatcher uses a Garmin G300 system that provides all flight and engine instrument information via an Air Data Attitude and Heading Reference System (ADAHRS) unit,” Oord said. “Magnetic compass data is derived from a magnetometer, located in the tail, to detect magnetic heading, a system far superior to a magnetic compass.”

The FAA agreed and responded quickly. In a revision note dated May 30 that now appears in the PTS, the agency reworded Objective 5 in Section 1, Area of Operation VII, Task A, Pilotage and Dead Reckoning (ASEL and ASES) “to refer to ‘magnetic direction indicator’ instead of ‘magnetic compass.’” The task now requires that an applicant “demonstrates use of magnetic direction indicator in navigation, to include turns to new headings.”

Removal of the magnetic compass requirement should spare training aircraft operators an estimated $1,000-per-aircraft compass installation expense to make their aircraft eligible for use in private pilot training and checkrides, Oord said.

Mandating use of the compass also conflicted with FAR 91.205, which requires a magnetic direction indicator for day flight under visual flight rules. All applicants must still demonstrate turns, whether using a magnetic compass or other direction-sensing system.

Instructors and their students should make sure that they are using the current version of Private Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplanes, FAA-S-8081-14B, dated November 2011, effective June 1, 2012, with changes 1 through 5 listed in the record of changes. 

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.