Some Data Points on Tracking FAA Certification Activity During COVID-19 Effects

It is far too early to tell a great deal from FAA data available, but with a little help from some data shared with industry members from a couple of FAA offices, we can certainly see that the impact on practical test due to COVID-19 has slowed, and also may be showing recovery from the effects of COVID-19.

One early indicator that has been shared is the tracking of FAA practical test activity as it is delivered by FAA DPEs.

It is a short comparison, but if we look at the overall volume of DPE issued practical tests, and compare some of the same date periods from 2020 to last year, 2019, we see an obvious decrease in the number of tests conducted. Worth note, the data here is somewhat limited and I am providing what I have, so full comparisons may not be available that tell the full year-to-year story. But even with that said, some indications and trends that at least tell part of the story seem to be evident.

The chart above shows an obvious drop in testing volume in 2020 compared to the first part of February moving into March and April as the United States experienced nationwide shutdowns and restrictions.

The good news?

Certifications didn’t completely stop and in comparison to 2019 data for the second half of the set, the certification numbers weren’t actually as far off from last year’s activity level as one might have expected. This can be seen in the table data below.

So, while we may be seeing a 15-28% decrease period by period in this data, it is a short time frame we are using to estimate some of the effects here and we even see that the first part of June 2020 showed an increase back to, and exceeding (slightly) the testing volume over the same period last year. This may be the result of restarting efforts and some pent up demand from during closure periods, but either way that is a positive data point from the perspective of continued pilot certification flow data considerations.

A major factor in the continued trends going forward will be related not only to re-opening efforts, but additionally the ability of training providers for foreign students to again intake new students for training. We know historically this customer base has been approximately 45-48% of the total training volume in the United States, so if this customer base is not able to return due to travel restrictions from international locations we will likely see some additional decreasing effects comparatively in testing (airman certification) volume.

Another indicator that has been shared is that of ATP certificate issuance. Without providing a big long table here, the general data points have shown typical average issuance numbers per month in the mid-500’s range over the past 14 months. Some have been over 600, a few dipped into the high 400’s, but all have been higher than the May 2020 number of AMEL ATP issuances that equaled only 361. This is somewhere near the 40-50% reduction rate.

The expectation of this reduction is related to the cancellation of numerous classes of new hires at airlines over that month. Many of the classes that were in process during March and April 2020 were completed at airlines providing the training that results in ATP certification, but they didn’t start new cancellations and this data is likely what is showing in the reduction of ATP certification experienced in May. We will have to watch to see how June plays out and as airlines rally to recover, what levels of certification will return for AMEL ATP certificates going forward.

These data points are initial views at some of the effects of COVID-19 related slowdowns, closures, and cancellations. There are negative points we can see already, but we are already starting to see some positive indicators of training (and certification) levels coming back as the country re-opens.

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About Jason Blair

Jason Blair is an active single and multiengine instructor and an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 6,000 hours total time, over 3,000 hours of instruction given, and more than 3000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. In his role as Examiner, over 2,000 pilot certificates have been issued. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations with the work focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes over 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.

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