Marc Nathanson is the FAA Boston Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE). His role with the FAA is to administer Practical (flight) and Oral (1-on-1 knowledge) pilot exams for a wide range of pilot certificates and ratings. He has taken the time to share with us some of the current trends he is observing during his recent check rides.
These are the trends that I see on check rides that I administer.
1. Not keeping the transponder set to “Altitude” while on the ground:
Here is the FAA Safety Alert for Operators (See article image) that instructs us to do so. Note the last paragraph were it states "… aircraft operating on all airport movement areas at all airports, not just those that are ASDE-X equipped, must have their transponder on in the altitude reporting mode”.
2. Approach Descent Approval:
It is critical for you to understand that you must have two things before descending on an approach; clearance and you must be established on a published portion of the approach. Thinking it is permissible to descend before reaching a published portion of an instrument approach when the controller communicates that you are “cleared for the approach” can be deadly. Some years ago, an airline crew flying to Dulles Airport thought that they were allowed to descend before reaching the first fix, normally the Initial Approach Fix (IAF). They descended into rising terrain with catastrophic results.
With that said, nothing indicates that you cannot request a lower altitude such as the initial approach altitude before arriving at the IAF. However, it is important you know the terrain before making such a request so you don’t have a Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accident or incident. ATC (approach control) may allow you to descend or they may decline for traffic separation or safety reasons.
3. Radio Communication and Airport Signage:
I ask the following questions of all applicants:
You are ready for takeoff and call the control tower and say, “Hanscom Tower, Cessna 12345, holding short of Runway 29, ready for takeoff to the west”. Tower’s reply is “Roger”. What does this mean?
You do and say nothing unless you really have a question. This simply means that they heard you. This is only to acknowledge your transmission.
Tower then says, “Hold short”. What must your reply be?
“Cessna 12345, holding short of runway 29”. You must say the runway (or taxiway) you are holding short of.
What do you do with your aircraft’s exterior lights when crossing a runway?
Turn all of them on.
You are cleared to taxi the takeoff runway and the route takes you across another runway. What would you expect ground control to say?
They will tell you to taxi to runway (23) and to either hold short of the runway you must cross runway (29) or to cross runway (29). If in doubt, stop and ask before crossing the runway.
You call tower and tell them you are ready for takeoff and tower tells you to “Line up and wait”. What are you allowed to do?
You are allowed to taxi onto the takeoff runway, but must not takeoff. Just align your aircraft to the takeoff heading in the middle of the runway at the takeoff position.
Your scenario is to remain in the traffic pattern practicing landings. Tower clears you for takeoff, but instructs you to “extend the upwind 1 mile before turning cross wind”. Does this mean you can turn downwind?
I then show the applicant a series of index cards with airport signage asking them what they mean. These cards may be obtained from the FAA Website. The most often missed signs are;
Taxiway hold short line which is a dashed line.
The round red sign with the horizontal line indicating "Do Not Enter". You should not taxi your aircraft down a vehicle access road.
The solid and dashed lines that demarcate the Movement and Non-Movement areas. You are allowed to taxi within the Non-Movement areas without clearance from ground. This is on the solid line side. Crossing the line requires ground control approval.
4. Brake Check:
Performing the check with excessive speed and not reducing the power to idle before applying the brakes. Power could turn the aircraft into other aircraft or structures if the speed is fast and a brake fails. Before starting, imagine what would happen if the brakes did not work when executing the test. Use only enough power to taxi out of the tie down area at 1-2 knots, reduce the throttle(s) to idle, then gently apply the brakes ensuring you don’t launch the examiner or passengers through the windshield-thank you.
5. Current GPS data base:
Current data base is required for an instrument practical test to include any practical test that requires instrument procedures. You should not to fly with an out of date data base anyways as it could result in an accident or violation.
6. Clearing the airspace:
You can fail a practical test if you don’t clear as much as possible. Even worse, you can lose your life!
7. Engine failure multiengine aircraft:
Not properly securing (feathering) a failed engine when it fails on takeoff in a timely manner. In other words, although we want to take enough time to get it right, one must secure the engine before altitude is a factor (can’t make it back to the runway).
When you have time (altitude), troubleshooting why an engine failed or is not producing sufficient power should be done before shutting it down and feathering the prop if deemed necessary. The fix may be as simple as changing fuel tanks. What is a safe altitude that allows time to troubleshoot? It depends on several factors, but the most important is your height above the ground and terrain you are flying towards. Here’s the biggest safety factor; know the single engine performance of the aircraft before you get into it. This way you will know if you really have time or a false sense of security. Remember that aircraft below 6,000lbs are not required to be able to climb on a single engine for certification.
8. VOR approach
Not switching from GPS to VOR when at the Initial Approach Fix. We can fly to the Initial or Final Approach Fixes using the GPS mode, but remember that you must switch to VOR mode prior to intercepting the final approach course. VOR on the approach chart means that you must fly the approach using the VOR not the GPS.
These were but a few of the practical test problem areas. I hope that you will stay in the books and ask questions. Feel free to contact me with any questions here: PilotPlanet.com/Contact
Consider purchasing Everything Explained for the Professional Pilot: by Richie Lengel. It is an excellent reference book. It is one of the very best books for all pilots.
Marc Nathanson (FAA DPE, Ret. Lt. Col USAF, CFI, CFII, MEI, ATP)