No More Autos in CFI Practical Test—A Safety Improvement?

By Joseph Ambrogne | April 15, 2016

Helicopter flight instructor candidates in the U.S. no longer must demonstrate straight-in or 180-deg autorotations during their CFI practical tests, according to a March 22 FAA decision. 
According to the agency's updated Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards (PTS) for Rotorcraft (Helicopter and Gyroplane), a designated pilot examiner may at his or her discretion accept a logbook endorsement from a current helicopter flight instructor in lieu of asking the student to perform the maneuvers during the practical test.
The endorsement must be given "by a current flight instructor with a rotorcraft category and helicopter class rating on his or her flight instructor certificate that provided the training and can attest to the applicant’s competence in these tasks," according to the updated PTS. Additionally, the endorsement cannot be accepted if the practical test is "a retest as a result of the applicant failing the previous practical test for deficiencies in instructional knowledge pertaining to the elements, common errors, performance, or correction of common errors related to straight-in or 180-degree autorotations."
A March 25 notice from the FAA Safety Team carried an undertone of concern about the safety of helicopter practical tests. Helicopter pilots must regularly practice autorotations—maneuvers conducted to safely land a helicopter without engine power—in order to maintain their proficiency. Designated pilot examiners who conduct practical tests may not necessarily be as current in those maneuvers as the instructors who practice them regularly. The notice said two of four reasons for the PTS change were to “greatly enhance safety during the CFI practical test” and to allow “the personnel who are most proficient at performing autorotations (active CFIs) to certify an applicant’s instructional knowledge and proficiency in these high risk tasks.”
That notice also said the change would align the helicopter practical test with its fixed-wing counterpart, while making the helicopter flight instructor “a more integral and accountable part of the applicant’s training leading to a higher level of professionalism among CFIs.” 

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