Goodbye PTS, Hello ACS


If you haven’t heard already, there are some big changes in how pilot applicants are tested. The first big change is the written test.The FAA knowledge test has been criticized for including too many questions that are:

• Out-of-date (e.g., lots of NDB questions, but not many RNAV)
• Overly complicated (e.g., questions requiring multiple interpolations to calculate very small values, such as a two-knot difference in wind speed or landing distance within three feet (?!)
• Irrelevant (e.g., questions on the number of satellites in the GPS constellation)
• Disconnected from the “real” skills and knowledge required for safe operation in today’s National Airspace System (NAS).

Accordingly, questions in the following topic areas have been deleted:

• ADF/NDB • Radar Summary Charts
• EFAS (En Route Flight Advisory Service)
• Medevac
• TWEB (Transcribed Weather Broadcast)

• Obsolete fuel grades (80 octane, 100 octane and 115 octane)ions involving scalability (i.e., those questions requiring the use of non-standard scales for measurement or calculation).
• Aircraft performance and weather questions that involve multiple interpolations across multiple charts.

This means a written test that is much more relevant to the rating being applied for. Here are some new sample questions:

1 Which statement relates to Bernoulli’s principle?

A. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
B. An additional upward force is generated as the lower surface of the wing deflects air downward.
C. Air traveling faster over the curved upper surface of an airfoil causes lower pressure on the top surface.

PLT025 / PA.I.F.K6 Aerodynamics.

2 The term ‘angle of attack’ is defined as the angle between the

A. chord line of the wing and the relative wind.
B. airplane`s longitudinal axis and that of the air striking the airfoil.
C. airplane`s center line and the relative wind.

PLT168 / PA.I.F.K6 Aerodynamics.

3 While on a VFR cross country and not in contact with ATC, what frequency would you use in the event of an emergency?

A. 121.5 MHz.
B. 122.5 MHz.
C. 128.725 MHz.

PLT391 / PA.VI.B.K3 Radar assistance to VFR aircraft (operations, equipment, available services, traffic

You can get more sample questions here.

The FAA has issued a new Testing Matrix and the PTS for the Practical test will also be changed. The first big change you will notice is that the “PTS” will be no more- instead, it will be replaced with the “Airman Certification Standards”, or ACS. The PTS matrix that we are all familiar with will also change, and will list the Objective and the related Knowledge, Skills, and Risk Management elements for each Task. Don’t worry though- while the appearance may change, the standards are pretty much identical.

One change will be the task designators. Each Task in the ACS is coded according to a scheme that includes up to four elements. For example:

PA = Applicable ACS (Private Pilot ‒ Airplane)
XI = Area of Operation (Night Operation)
A = Task (Night Preparation)
K1 = Knowledge Task Element 1 (Physiological aspects of night flying as it relates to vision)

Knowledge test questions are mapped to the ACS codes, which replace the previous system of “Learning Statement Codes.” Because the airman knowledge test report will list an ACS code that correlates to a specific Task Element for a given Area of Operation and Task, remedial instruction and re-testing will be specific, targeted, and based on specified learning criteria. Similarly, a Notice of Disapproval for the practical test will use the ACS codes to identify the deficient Task element(s).

Examples of the Task Completion Checklist can be found in this document.

Originally scheduled to be in place by late 2015, the FAA is now projecting an implementation date of sometime in 2016. You can read a briefing here and a more comprehensive list of FAQs here. This finally addresses a major complaint about the FAA knowledge tests and the FAA deserves kudos for finally making some real progress in getting our testing closer to our flying.