As an examiner, having an appropriate location to do a practical test is not always a guaranteed thing even though it is something that is fairly important to the overall success of the practical test.
I know to some readers this may seem like a pretty basic consideration, but unfortunately, it is commonly something the instructor and/or an applicant don’t think about securing. At some airports, it may be hard to accommodate, or not even be available at all.
When we think about where an appropriate location for the ground portion of a practical test might be, it really boils down to a place that will be uninterrupted and allow a discussion and demonstration of the applicant’s knowledge and skills in accordance with the applicable ACS/PTS materials. This is a little bit vague, so let’s get more into the details of this.
The fact that it hasn’t always been as obvious as one might think is the reasons I am writing this and was instigated a new addition to the emails I send out to an applicant when I schedule a test. It reads as follows:
“An appropriate room for the test will be one that allows for the test to be conducted without distraction. This requires us to have four walls and a closeable door in a climate-controlled location that is lighted in which outside individuals can be prohibited from entry during the ground portion of the test.”
I don’t add this to be offensive by any means, it is really just a reminder of what we need.
I do this because in many cases, no one has detailed to the applicant really what they should expect to do on the ground portion and what would be an appropriate location. Shame on those instructors, but it many times gets overlooked.
In fact, the FAA actually dictates that an examiner must conduct a practical test in a location with four walls and a closeable door that allows the test to be conducted uninterrupted.
At smaller airports where there are not dedicated training spaces, the only place might be the main open airport room where people will be in and out. This isn’t a good place to do a test unless you are going to lock everyone out during the ground portion of the test.
Heat or air conditioning is a good idea also. Imagine doing your practical test in a cold hangar over a table on a 22-degree day. How do you think that would go for you? I bring it up because people have tried to have me do tests in those conditions.
Related to this, lighting is a pretty good thing to have also. I say related, because if you are using an unheated hangar in the winter, and there are fluorescent lights, they may not work when it is below freezing. A space heater and hanging a shop light doesn’t exactly create a great testing environment either.
Take the time to think about where your practical test will place, and if an appropriate location cannot be provided at your home airport, ask the examiner if there is a place they can provide and travel there to do the test. Most examiners can do this.
Taking this discussion further, beyond basic Maslow’s hierarchy level discussions of comfort and uninterrupted location for the test, think about what would take it from an “acceptable” location to a location that is actually “good” for a test to be conducted.
A Broadway play wouldn’t go on without setting up the stage for the actors would it? Your checkride shouldn’t either.
Some things that are basic and should be there are at least a big enough table or work surface for the applicant and examiner to spread out materials and work from. Yeah, chairs for that table are a good idea also. It should go without saying, but it hasn’t always been a given in my experience.
Beyond this, if you want to take your checkride to the next level and have good resources available, I always encourage people to have available to them a whiteboard or chalkboard on which they could draw or make lists, a notebook to make lists and write things down,
A few less common things, but things that are really useful for some practical tests, especially CFI tests, I have seen savvy applicants have with them are pictures of the panel of the aircraft we will be using and even a computer monitor or projector on which an applicant could display things using an iPad, an AppleTV, a GoogleChromecast, or just from their laptop. Really good quality applicants think ahead and bring resources with them that will help them better demonstrate their knowledge. There is nothing wrong with doing this. It shows a well qualified and prepared applicant who has thought ahead for the day of the test.
Taking the time to secure and prepare a room ahead of time for a practical test can be part of a successful testing effort. If nothing else, it will reduce distractions, delays, or even the potential that a test will need to be rescheduled because an appropriate room is not available at the scheduled time.
Set the stage for success.
Side note, a friend asked me when I mentioned I was writing this article what some of the worst examples of places I have had people expect a test could be conducted were. Just for fun, I thought I would share a few examples.
- Over the wing of a plane in a community shared T-Hangar;
- On the picnic bench outside the airport on a 90-degree sunny day;
- At a local coffee shop;
- In a non-heated hangar in the winter; and
- In their car in the airport parking lot (the building had to be evacuated due to a fire alarm – false alarm, fortunately – and the applicant asked if we could just continue. I said now and we just waited until we could go back inside to continue.
And the one place I almost ended up doing one?
In one rare instance, the applicant and I got stuck in an elevator between floors on the way from the first floor to the third floor of the building where we intended to use a conference room for the test. Unfortunately, the “ring for assistance” bell wasn’t working. For a bit, I thought we might be there for a bit and since we had everything with us, half-heartedly joked if we were stuck there for a while we might as well start doing the ground questioning. Fortunately, I was able to push the doors open and it caused the elevator to reset and go back down the first floor where it opened and let us out. We chose to take the stairs to the third-floor conference room at that point and continued.