Sources of Flight Training

The major sources of flight training in the United States include FAA-approved pilot schools and training centers, non-certificated (14 CFR part 61) flying schools, and independent flight instructors. FAA-approved schools are those flight schools certificated by the FAA as pilot schools under 14 CFR part 141. [Figure 1]

Figure 1. FAA Form 8000-4, Air Agency Certificate

Application for certification is voluntary, and the school must meet stringent requirements for personnel, equipment, maintenance, and facilities. The school must operate in accordance with an established curriculum that includes a training course outline (TCO) approved by the FAA. The TCO must contain student enrollment prerequisites, detailed description of each lesson including standards and objectives, expected accomplishments and standards for each stage of training, and a description of the checks and tests used to measure a student’s accomplishments. FAA-approved pilot school certificates must be renewed every 2 years.

Renewal is contingent upon proof of continued high quality instruction and a minimum level of instructional activity. Training at an FAA-certificated pilot school is structured and because of this structured environment, the graduates of these pilot schools are allowed to meet the certification experience requirements of 14 CFR part 61 with less flight time. Many FAA-certificated pilot schools have DPEs on staff to administer FAA practical tests. Some schools have been granted examining authority by the FAA. A school with examining authority for a particular course(s) has the authority to recommend its graduates for pilot certificates or ratings without further testing by the FAA. A list of FAA-certificated pilot schools and their training courses can be found at http://

FAA-approved training centers are certificated under 14 CFR part 142. Training centers, like certificated pilot schools, operate in a structured environment with approved courses and curricula and stringent standards for personnel, equipment, facilities, operating procedures, and record keeping. Training centers certificated under 14 CFR part 142, however, specialize in the use of flight simulation (flight simulators and flight training devices) in their training courses.

There are a number of flying schools in the United States that are not certificated by the FAA. These schools operate under the provisions of 14 CFR part 61. Many of these non-certificated flying schools offer excellent training and meet or exceed the standards required of FAA-approved pilot schools. Flight instructors employed by non-certificated flying schools, as well as independent flight instructors, must meet the same basic 14 CFR part 61 flight instructor requirements for certification and renewal as those flight instructors employed by FAA-certificated pilot schools. In the end, any training program is dependent upon the quality of the ground and flight instruction a student pilot receives.

Practical Test Standards (PTS) and Airman Certification Standards (ACS)

Practical tests for FAA pilot certificates and associated ratings are administered by FAA inspectors and DPEs in accordance with FAA-developed Practical Test Standards (PTS) and Airman Certification Standards (ACS). [Figure 2] 14 CFR part 61 specifies the areas of operation in which knowledge and skill must be demonstrated by the applicant. The CFRs provide the flexibility to permit the FAA to publish PTS and ACS containing the areas of operation and specific tasks in which competence must be demonstrated. The FAA requires that all practical tests be conducted in accordance with the appropriate PTS and ACS and the policies set forth in the introduction section of the PTS and ACS.

Figure 2. Airman Certification Standards (ACS) developed by the FAA

It must be emphasized that the PTS and ACS are testing documents rather than teaching documents. Although the pilot applicant should be familiar with these books and refer to the standards it contains during training, the PTS and ACS is not intended to be used as a training syllabus. It contains the standards to which maneuvers/procedures on FAA practical tests must be performed and the FAA policies governing the administration of practical tests. An appropriately rated flight instructor is responsible for training a pilot applicant to acceptable standards in all subject matter areas, procedures, and maneuvers included in, and encompassed by, the tasks within each area of operation in the appropriate PTS and ACS. Flight instructors and pilot applicants should always remember that safe, competent piloting requires a commitment to learning, planning, and risk management that goes beyond rote performance of maneuvers. Descriptions of tasks and information on how to perform maneuvers and procedures are contained in reference and teaching documents, such as this site. A list of reference documents is contained in the introduction section of each PTS and ACS. It is necessary that the latest version of the PTS and ACS, with all recent changes, be referenced for training. All recent versions and changes to the FAA PTS and ACS may be viewed or downloaded at

Safety of Flight Practices

In the interest of safety and good habit pattern formation, there are certain basic flight safety practices and procedures that must be emphasized by the flight instructor, and adhered to by both instructor and student, beginning with the very first dual instruction flight. These include, but are not limited to, collision avoidance procedures including proper scanning techniques and clearing procedures, runway incursion avoidance, stall awareness, positive transfer of controls, and flight deck workload management.

Collision Avoidance

All pilots must be alert to the potential for midair collision and impending loss of separation. The general operating and flight rules in 14 CFR part 91 set forth the concept of “See and Avoid.” This concept requires that vigilance shall be maintained at all times by each person operating an aircraft regardless of whether the operation is conducted under IFR or VFR. Pilots should also keep in mind their responsibility for continuously maintaining a vigilant lookout regardless of the type of aircraft being flown and the purpose of the flight. Most midair collision accidents and reported near midair collision incidents occur in good VFR weather conditions and during the hours of daylight. Most of these accident/incidents occur within 5 miles of an airport and/or near navigation aids. [Figure 3]

Figure 3. Most midair collision accidents occur in good weather

The “See and Avoid” concept relies on knowledge of the limitations of the human eye and the use of proper visual scanning techniques to help compensate for these limitations. Pilots should remain constantly alert to all traffic movement within their field of vision, as well as periodically scanning the entire visual field outside of their aircraft to ensure detection of conflicting traffic. Remember that the performance capabilities of many aircraft, in both speed and rates of climb/descent, result in high closure rates limiting the time available for detection, decision, and evasive action. [Figure 4]

Figure 4. Proper scanning techniques can mitigate midair collisions. Pilots must be aware of potential blind spots and attempt to clear the entire area that they are maneuvering in

The probability of spotting a potential collision threat increases with the time spent looking outside, but certain techniques may be used to increase the effectiveness of the scan time. The human eyes tend to focus somewhere, even in a featureless sky. In order to be most effective, the pilot should shift glances and refocus at intervals. Most pilots do this in the process of scanning the instrument panel, but it is also important to focus outside to set up the visual system for effective target acquisition. Pilots should also realize that their eyes may require several seconds to refocus when switching views between items on the instrument panel and distant objects.

Proper scanning requires the constant sharing of attention with other piloting tasks, thus it is easily degraded by such psychological and physiological conditions, such as fatigue, boredom, illness, anxiety, or preoccupation.

Effective scanning is accomplished with a series of short, regularly-spaced eye movements that bring successive areas of the sky into the central visual field. Each movement should not exceed 10 degrees, and each area should be observed for at least 1 second to enable detection. Although horizontal back-and-forth eye movements seem preferred by most pilots, each pilot should develop a scanning pattern that is most comfortable to them and adhere to it to assure optimum scanning.

Peripheral vision can be most useful in spotting collision threats from other aircraft. Each time a scan is stopped and the eyes are refocused, the peripheral vision takes on more importance because it is through this element that movement is detected. Apparent movement is almost always the first perception of a collision threat and probably the most important because it is the discovery of a threat that triggers the events leading to proper evasive action. It is essential to remember, however, that if another aircraft appears to have no relative motion, it is likely to be on a collision course with you. If the other aircraft shows no lateral or vertical motion, but is increasing in size, take immediate evasive action.

The importance of, and the proper techniques for, visual scanning should be taught to a student pilot at the very beginning of flight training. The competent flight instructor should be familiar with the visual scanning and collision avoidance information contained in AC 90-48, Pilots’ Role in Collision Avoidance, and the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).

There are many different types of clearing procedures. Most are centered around the use of clearing turns. The essential idea of the clearing turn is to be certain that the next maneuver is not going to proceed into another airplane’s flightpath. Some pilot training programs have hard and fast rules, such as requiring two 90° turns in opposite directions before executing any training maneuver. Other types of clearing procedures may be developed by individual flight instructors. Whatever the preferred method, the flight instructor should teach the beginning student an effective clearing procedure and insist on its use. The student pilot should execute the appropriate clearing procedure before all turns and before executing any training maneuver. Proper clearing procedures, combined with proper visual scanning techniques, are the most effective strategy for collision avoidance.

Runway Incursion Avoidance

A runway incursion is any occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person, or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in a loss of separation with an aircraft taking off, landing, or intending to land. The three major areas contributing to runway incursions are communications, airport knowledge, and flightdeck procedures for maintaining orientation. [Figure 5]

Figure 5. Three major areas contributing to runway incursions are communications with air traffic control (ATC), airport knowledge, and flight deck procedures

Taxi operations require constant vigilance by the entire flight crew, not just the pilot taxiing the airplane. During flight training, the instructor should emphasize the importance of vigilance during taxi operations. Both the student pilot and the flight instructor need to be continually aware of the movement and location of other aircraft and ground vehicles on the airport movement area. Many flight training activities are conducted at non-tower controlled airports. The absence of an operating airport control tower creates a need for increased vigilance on the part of pilots operating at those airports. [Figure 6]

Figure 6. Sedona Airport is one of the many airports that operate without a control tower

Planning, clear communications, and enhanced situational awareness during airport surface operations reduces the potential for surface incidents. Safe aircraft operations can be accomplished and incidents eliminated if the pilot is properly trained early on and throughout their flying career on standard taxi operating procedures and practices. This requires the development of the formalized teaching of safe operating practices during taxi operations. The flight instructor is the key to this teaching. The flight instructor should instill in the student an awareness of the potential for runway incursion, and should emphasize the runway incursion avoidance procedures. For more detailed information and a list of additional references, refer to Chapter 14 of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

Stall Awareness

14 CFR part 61 requires that a student pilot receive and log flight training in stalls and stall recoveries prior to solo flight. [Figure 7] During this training, the flight instructor should emphasize that the direct cause of every stall is an excessive angle of attack (AOA). The student pilot should fully understand that there are several flight maneuvers that may produce an increase in the wing’s AOA, but the stall does not occur until the AOA becomes excessive. This critical AOA varies from 16°–20° depending on the airplane design. [Figure 8]

Figure 7. All student pilots must receive and log flight training in stalls and stall recoveries prior to their first solo flight

Figure 8. Stalls occur when the airfoils angle of attack reaches the critical point which can vary between 16° and 20°

The flight instructor must emphasize that low speed is not necessary to produce a stall. The wing can be brought to an excessive AOA at any speed. High pitch attitude is not an absolute indication of proximity to a stall. Some airplanes are capable of vertical flight with a corresponding low AOA. Most airplanes are quite capable of stalling at a level or near level pitch attitude.

The key to stall awareness is the pilot’s ability to visualize the wing’s AOA in any particular circumstance, and thereby be able to estimate his or her margin of safety above stall. This is a learned skill that must be acquired early in flight training and carried through the pilot’s entire flying career.

The pilot must understand and appreciate factors such as airspeed, pitch attitude, load factor, relative wind, power setting, and aircraft configuration in order to develop a reasonably accurate mental picture of the wing’s AOA at any particular time. It is essential to safety of flight that pilots take into consideration this visualization of the wing’s AOA prior to entering any flight maneuver.

Use of Checklists Checklists have been the foundation of pilot standardization and flight deck safety for years. [Figure 9] The checklist is a memory aid and helps to ensure that critical items necessary for the safe operation of aircraft are not overlooked or forgotten. Checklists need not be “do lists.” In other words, the proper actions can be accomplished, and then the checklist used to quickly ensure all necessary tasks or actions have been completed. Emphasis on the “check” in checklist. However, checklists are of no value if the pilot is not committed to using them. Without discipline and dedication to using the appropriate checklists at the appropriate times, the odds are on the side of error. Pilots who fail to take the use of checklists seriously become complacent and begin to rely solely on memory.

Figure 9. Checklists have been the foundation of pilot standardization and flight safety for many years

The importance of consistent use of checklists cannot be overstated in pilot training. A major objective in primary flight training is to establish habit patterns that will serve pilots well throughout their entire flying career. The flight instructor must promote a positive attitude toward the use of checklists, and the student pilot must realize its importance.

At a minimum, prepared checklists should be used for the following phases of flight. [Figure 10]
  • Preflight Inspection
  • Before Engine Start
  • Engine Starting
  • Before Taxiing
  • Before Takeoff
  • After Takeoff
  • Cruise
  • Descent
  • Before Landing
  • After Landing
  • Engine Shutdown and Securing

Figure 10. A sample before landing checklist used by pilots

Positive Transfer of Controls

During flight training, there must always be a clear understanding between the student and flight instructor of who has control of the aircraft. Prior to any flight, a briefing should be conducted that includes the procedures for the exchange of flight controls. The following three-step process for the exchange of flight controls is highly recommended.

When a flight instructor wishes the student to take control of the aircraft, he or she should say to the student, “You have the flight controls.” The student should acknowledge immediately by saying, “I have the flight controls.” The flight instructor should then confirm by again saying, “You have the flight controls.” Part of the procedure should be a visual check to ensure that the other person actually has the flight controls. When returning the controls to the flight instructor, the student should follow the same procedure the instructor used when giving control to the student. The student should stay on the controls until the instructor says: “I have the flight controls.” There should never be any doubt as to who is flying the airplane at any one time. Numerous accidents have occurred due to a lack of communication or misunderstanding as to who actually had control of the aircraft, particularly between students and flight instructors. Establishing the above procedure during initial training ensures the formation of a very beneficial habit pattern.