Dec 12, 2017

Practical flight testing is used within the aviation industry to establish competency in the skills required for aircraft pilot’s certification and additional endorsements. These in flight tests are carried out by certified examiners in applicable aircraft and conditions. The examiner acts as an observer during the duration of the flight, only taking control of the aircraft if it is necessary to maintain the safety of the flight.

In order to be able to sit a practical flight test, a large amount of preparation and practice must be undertaken. However even the best prepared students can make mistakes, take a look below for common mistakes made during practical flight tests.

1. Providing Incorrect Or Incomplete Paperwork

Students in CockpitBefore letting you anywhere near an aircraft the examiner must determine whether all of the paperwork meets the appropriate legal obligations and requirements. This includes establishing you are who you say you are, that you have met all prerequisites including written examinations, licences, medical certificates, flight experience, aircraft knowledge and ratings, as well as assessing the suitability of the aircraft.

A few of the key things you will need to provide evidence of before taking to the air are:

  • Pilot Logbooks
  • Pilot training records
  • Pilot aircraft licenses
  • Knowledge of the aircraft’s management systems (and control systems failures)
  • Aircraft maintenance records and logbooks

2. Handling Errors And Bad Judgement

Go-around! It is impossible to make the perfect approach every time, making the decision to go around when heading in to land shows good aircraft handling and adherence to safety standards. Short-field landings are often what gets most pilots, landing short of or excessively beyond the designated points is something that causes pilots to regularly fail tests.

Know what is necessary and make sure you are able to make the landing within the requirements, and yes, be willing to go-around if you aren’t going to make it. It is also important to remember before performing any aerial manoeuvres to clear the area carefully and promptly correct any deviations. During the flight test you are the pilot in command, it is up to you to make the right choices.

3. Lack Of Airspace Knowledge

Panel Switches on Flight DeckBeing able to confidently identify airspace classifications, designated airspaces and controlled airspaces on VFR charts is a requirement for all pilots. Currently in New Zealand, all airspace is given classification under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) airspace classification system. The system is based on the level of Air Traffic Services (ATS) provided within the area, and whether entry into the airspace needs clearance.

If you are nearing prescribed airspace limitations, and the examiner has to alert you to this, it will be an automatic fail. Know where you are at all times – operating within the different requirements of the various airspaces is essential to the safety of all concerned.

4. Not Following Air Traffic Control Instructions

When operating in controlled air spaces pilots must cooperate and be able to follow all ATC instructions, this includes when taxiing on the ground. Many pilots make the mistake of not following the instructions properly or not being familiar with the air spaces standard practices on the ground and in the air.

Asking for clarification from ATC or for them to repeat the instructions is acceptable during a flight test and in fact shows a high regard for safety and procedure. Know your airspace runways, regulations, pattern and vectoring information.

5. Getting Lost

However prepared you are on paper; nothing beats previous experience and exposure to the airspace and its conditions. Surprisingly more often than you would think, many pilots fail their practical flight test after losing track of where they are.

Always be conscious of your position and the position of the airport or landing point. It is best practice to make use landmarks or recognisable features, cardinal directions and other navigation aids before resorting to GPS navigation systems.

6. Ignoring Aircraft Performance Limitations

Pilot Flight InstructorCorrect aircraft weight and balance calculations are vital not just for passing a practical flight test, but for the safety of the passengers, the aircraft, other aircraft sharing the airspace and those on the ground. It is not OK to fly over gross weight or out of centre-of-gravity limitations as set out by the manufacturer specifications. Pilots must be able to make these calculations (on the spot if necessary) for each individual aircraft.

Being able to appreciate the effects of weight and balance on the performance and handling of the aircraft is essential for any pilot, particularly when performance reducing factors, such as turbulence, high ambient temperatures and emergency situations are also factored in. Overloaded aircraft can result in reduced capabilities, handling difficulties or system failures, and out of limits centre of gravity situations can adversely affect control and stability aspects of the aircraft.

7. Lack Of Physical And Mental Preparation

Practical flight tests can be demanding, both mentally and physically. Illness, medications, lack of food and general fatigue can be major contributors to not being at your peak for a practical flight test.

It is advisable to make sure you have eaten something healthy prior to the test and are well rested after having gone to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. Organise your time so as to avoid late night studying, and if taking any medications for illness, hay fever or any other health complaint, taking the practical test is not recommended.

Practical flight tests are designed to prove the pilot is capable and has the appropriate level of skill to perform the required manoeuvres in a manner that complies with all CAA standards and regulations. On the spot decision making, responsibility and the use of all available resources is also assessed along with a strong focus on safety and displaying a willingness and desire to operate safely in all future operations. See here for more information on flight training in New Zealand.

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