A Busy Pilot Training Sector – What FAA Checkride Volume May Indicate During COVID Effects – Updated Data

Involved in flight training in the United States and feel like it has been a super busy summer? You aren’t alone.

This year has felt very busy for many flight training providers, instructors, and pilot examiners around the country.

There is a reason for that. It’s because it has been very busy. For those of you who know me and read my blog, I like to find data points that help us give indicators about what is happening in our industry. One of those data points is the volume of FAA practical tests that has been given over time for pilot certification.

In some recent data shared with me, I have been able to continue the comparison of this year in 15-day increments compared with last year.

While one might initially think 2020 would have a reduced number of FAA pilot certification events with the effects of COVID-19 in the United States, what we are seeing is actually certification activity that over the period of time is largely on par with 2019 events.

In the following table, we can see an initial decrease in certification events during April and May, but from that point, events have actually been increased compared with the previous year.

What we see from this data is that on a year-to-year basis for this period we are actually only down 3.87% for total pilot certification events. Continue reading

FAA Updates Knowledge Test Databases

The FAA recently updated a number of the FAA Knowledge Test databases. Of particular note was updates to the Fundamentals of Instructing database of questions to incorporate changes from the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook (FAA-H-8093-9B) that was updated in May of this year. CFI candidates are strongly encouraged to review this content if they have upcoming knowledge tests.

The recent updates also saw the inclusion of new questions for the ATP, Commercial, and Instrument pilot tests.

Update information is regularly provided by ASA with some of the sample questions at https://www.asa2fly.com/FAA-Knowledge-Exams-W22.aspx

Effects of Airline Volume Reductions/Pilot Furloughs on ATP Pilot Certification Activity, and Future Supply

We all know that airline passenger travel and overall airline flight operations have declined significantly during the effects of COVID-19. What we don’t know is the overall long term effects on the aviation industry that will be lasting, and potentially, problematic.

I can’t postulate all of the effects, but I do want to tie together a few data points and bring awareness to one potential challenge we are going to need to address if (when) traffic volumes again increase. This is the concerning decrease in the production of ATP certificates that is beginning to show itself.

First, some background.

When the changes to pilot qualifications were made (resultant from the Colgan crash) that required a pilot to have an ATP certificate for any FAR 121 carriage flight operations, and the requirement of the ATP CTP course was implemented to be eligible for an ATP certificate, the game changed. As a result of these changes, the vast majority of ATP certificates in the United States began to be issued at regional airlines due to the costs and complexity of providing this ATP CTP course. In effect, we made our ATP certificate production dependant on airlines needing more ATPs.

That isn’t the case currently. So they aren’t producing them in any quantity at this time.

Here’s why.

In a recent Airlines for America “Impact of COVID-19: Data Updates,” two slides really tell the story.

In the first, we see that overall worldwide (and domestic) departures of airline flights has dropped significantly. With this decrease in demand, the need for pilots has similarly decreased. Airlines are adjusting their operations accordingly, and simply, we don’t currently need as many pilots.


Source: Airlines for America – https://www.airlines.org/dataset/impact-of-covid19-data-updates/#

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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. Continue reading