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'It's complex''It's complex'

Why the recent practical-test policy change is good newsWhy the recent practical-test policy change is good news

Before the FAA’s welcome announcement on April 24 that it had set aside the requirement for commercial pilot or flight instructor applicants with a single-engine airplane rating to provide a complex airplane for the practical test, applicants had two choices.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

You could take your practical test in two airplanes, say by doing most of it in a Cessna 172, and performing a “complex demonstration” in a pricier Cessna 172RG. Or you could take the entire ride in the 172RG.

Things went from unwieldy to bizarre if you didn’t have easy access to a complex single.

When a flight-instructor student of mine needed familiarization in a complex airplane before his practical test some years back, he faced that dilemma. The only complex rental airplane had been sold; now the nearest available one was based 150 nautical miles away.

The pilot was a highly experienced stick-and-rudder man, owned a classic taildragger, and was going to make a terrific CFI. So, on an early spring day, we flew his Cessna 120 north to bring home the Cessna 172RG he was going to rent before the practical test. Skies were cloudy, but forecasts suggested that the predicted snow would hold off until evening.

When we landed up north, the 172RG’s owner gave me—as the instructor—a checkout in his airplane, on my student’s tab. We left the Cessna 120 in his care and headed south, with the CFI applicant flying the 172RG.

Halfway home, above the remoteness of northern Maine where weather information was scarce, we encountered a surprise: snow up ahead that looked anything but light. Visibility was okay below the high overcast, but the snow turned out to be wet, heavy, nasty stuff. I decided on the safe but inconvenient option to divert to a nearby airport. The applicant was gentleman enough not to second-guess me, despite his disappointment.

Hours later we made it home—in the cab of a tractor-trailer in which we begged passage at a truck stop near the airport. That ride down the interstate was as scary as continued flight might have been, as the weather had turned truly ugly.

This left us with the applicant’s Cessna 120 tied down up north at Airport A, the 172RG at Airport B, and us headed home by land with nothing to show for our effort to procure a complex airplane.

Three days later we took off into blustery post-frontal conditions in a third airplane—a Cessna 172 rented from the FBO where I worked part-time—and flew back to Airport B, where we had diverted in the 172RG. Then we flew the 172RG back up north to Airport A.

There, we untied the applicant’s Cessna 120 and returned to Airport B, so I could fly the Skyhawk home.

Five months later, after more false starts, the applicant took and passed his CFI practical test.

Other pilots can doubtless share similarly vexing and expensive stories of what they went through to earn their working-pilot privileges.

That’s why the lifting of the requirements to provide a complex airplane for the commercial pilot and instructor practical tests rates as some of the best flight training news of the year.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advanced Training, Flight Instructor, Aeronautical Decision Making

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