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Foundation Perspective

Embracing technology

A new and improved Instrument Rating PTS

Like any normal red-blooded instructor, I've occasionally taken my cheap shots at the FAA, but not this time. By the time this article is published, many of you will have already used the new Instrument Rating Practical Test Standards (PTS). This revision, which took effect in October 2004, is a much-needed step. It's clear that the FAA had several objectives in mind, among them bringing the PTS into today's training environment and introducing scenario-based training and single-pilot resource management (SRM). This month I will focus on the first objective. Stay tuned for an in-depth discussion on scenario-based training and single-pilot resource management in future articles.

The vast majority of the changes to this PTS were made in the introduction -- the part that students study the least. The introduction always contains some of the most critical information in the PTS, a tradition that holds true in this revision. The Task list has only some minor changes.

The instrument PTS and today's training environment

The first noteworthy change is an updated resource list, long overdue given that books like the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge and the Instrument Flying Handbook were updated some time ago. The second change is a list of abbreviations, as in Section 1 in the federal aviation regulations. With the advent of TAA, GPWS, GNSS, APV, and FMS, this is a welcome addition.

The FAA spent considerable effort in this PTS update clarifying procedures for aircraft with new or advanced technology. In fact, the single largest change in the manual is the addition of almost a full page discussing how technology like GPS, MFDs, and PFDs are to be used and tested during the practical test. The discussion focuses on three items-the electronic flight display, the autopilot/FMS, and the GPS.

Electronic flight display

This new section of the PTS defines any electronic flight instrument system (EFIS), integrated flight deck display, and LCD or picture-tube-like display as an electronic flight display. If you fly a Cirrus, a new Cessna 182, or anything equipped with a Garmin G1000 or Avidyne glass cockpit, you have an electronic flight display.

This section outlines the parameters for evaluating how an applicant copes with this equipment. Specifically the new language discusses how to evaluate an applicant's loss of the electronic flight instruments; "The loss of the primary electronic flight instrument display must be tailored to failures that would normally be encountered in the aircraft. If the aircraft is capable, total failure of the electronic flight instrument display, or a supporting component, with access only to the standby flight instruments or backup display shall be evaluated." With new all-glass Cessna and Piper singles rapidly entering the market, the success of the Cirrus, and the wide proliferation of the Garmin G1000, this guidance is clear. If your students are flying with this advanced technology, they need to know how to fly the airplane when the system is operating -- and when the screen is blank.

The autopilot/FMS

With the introduction of an airline-like flight deck into a GA cockpit, the days of viewing the autopilot as a luxury item are dwindling. In technologically advanced aircraft (TAA), the autopilot and flight management system (FMS) are designed for one reason: to act as a second pilot in a single-pilot environment. With that in mind, it is crucial that pilots who routinely fly these aircraft know how to properly use this equipment. This section of the new PTS does just that -- it requires the pilot to use the autopilot and FMS.

The new PTS states, "The applicant is expected to utilize an autopilot and/or flight management system (FMS), if properly installed, during the instrument practical test to assist in the management of the aircraft. The examiner is expected to test the applicant's knowledge of the systems that are installed and operative during the oral and flight portions of the practical test." Not only is the student required to know the system and use it during the flight, but the new PTS also requires practical application of this technology when it counts -- during an approach. It continues, "The applicant will be required to demonstrate the use of the autopilot and/or FMS during one of the nonprecision approaches."


This addition is long overdue. While the previous version lightly touched on the use and application of GPS, this revision gives specific guidance on how a pilot's use of "the box" should be tested. It specifically states, "If the practical test is conducted in the aircraft, and the aircraft has an operable and properly installed GPS, the applicant must demonstrate GPS approach proficiency when asked." Most good flight instructors have been teaching GPS in preparation for the checkride, but now it's an official requirement.

The other major change involving GPS deals with approaches. The new language reads, "If the applicant has contracted for training in an approved course that includes GPS training&the applicant must demonstrate GPS approach proficiency." This is basically saying that if your student has trained on GPS under an approved course such as Part 141, he must complete a GPS approach during the practical test. I know that not everybody takes "training in an approved course"; however, I would bet that if your student's aircraft has an installed GPS unit, he or she will be asked to shoot an approach with it. The last major change, and possibly the most visible, is in Area Of Operation IV-Flight By Reference to Instruments. The FAA has combined six tasks into one. Mundane, basic tasks like "straight and level flight," "change of airspeed," and "constant-airspeed climbs and descents" are now one task: "Basic Instrument Flight Maneuvers." This makes sense. When was the last time you heard an examiner say, "OK, let's set up for some straight-and-level flight"?

While there are other minor wording corrections throughout the PTS, these are the major changes that will affect day-to-day flight instruction. Overall the changes made in this revision are thoughtful, relevant, and sorely needed; I give the FAA two big thumbs up. But do you agree? We would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. If you have comments on the new PTS, send us an e-mail. We may include them in a future article. David Wright is director of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. A former pilot for US Airways Express, he is a CFI with more than 2,000 hours.

By David Wright

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