Updated ACS/PTS Documents Available – Effective May 31, 2024

The FAA published on April 1st, 2024 much-awaited updated Airman Certification Standards and Practical Test Standards for numerous certification tests.

Applicants, CFIs, and DPEs are encouraged to become familiar with the updated and new documents for upcoming testing activities.

The documents are available for review now but do not become immediately effective. These testing g standards will become effective as of May 31, 2024. All tests after that day will be conducted in accordance with the new standards.

Click here to see the updated ACS/PTS documents that
become effective for testing on May 31, 2024.

Random, Other, Miscellaneous Airman Certification Data Points from 2023

There is lots of other data that I (and hopefully you may) find interesting in the U.S. Civil Airman Statistics each year. Ok, I’m probably more of a data dork than most, but someone else has to join me in at least some of this, so here are a few other interesting points I just thought I would share.

No Half the People Don’t Fail the Initial CFI Test

There is a long-standing myth that half the people who take their initial CFI certificate practical test fail it. There is a further myth that if you happen to be taking such a test with an FAA inspector, you are bound to fail and just should be ready to take the second attempt at some point.

The data proves different points on this topic however. In fact, the pass rate seems to have gone up over the past 15 years from around 66.5% to a whopping 76% pass rate for initial CFI certificates with DPEs last year. While FAA inspectors don’t do many of these tests, they actually tend to pass people more frequently as  percentage point than DPEs do! Any column on the right of the table here that is negative is a year in which FAA inspector administrated initial CFI practical tests had a better pass rate than the ones conducted by DPEs. Of course, their sample size is much smaller.

Across the system, FAA inspectors have been averaging only about 1% of the practical tests conducted in recent years.

Female Pilot Certification Continues to Climb (slowly)

Since 2011, when there were 41,316 pilot certificates held by females, we have progressed to 2023, having 82,817 pilot certificates held by female aviators. This represents 10.26% of overall pilot certificate holders, up from 6.69%.

It’s an increase, although probably not as much as we would all like to see it be. We continue to see the certification of female aviators increase as a percentage of the overall pilot population. From a pure numbers standpoint, the increase over the past 12 years represents a little more than a doubling of certificated female aviators.

Like some of our other ratio-based considerations, as our senior pilot cadre ages out of our system, I do expect the ratio to pick up speed in its improvement due to increased female pilot certification rates in recent years compared to past decades. But we can always do better at recruiting female aviators if we want to see the balancing of male to female pilot ratio happen faster.

Building More Mechanics?

Pilots are great, but any good mechanic will tell you they are worthless without a good mechanic to keep their planes operable. They are right in lots of ways. Without mechanics, we aren’t going to be able to keep our aviation system safe or working at all.

In the past couple of years we have seen some interesting trends in the mechanic realm.

Mechanic certificate numbers tend to be trending up slightly, although not at the rates we are seeing in many of the pilot certification events.

Our industry is going to need to continue to recruit individuals into the aviation maintenance career path if we are going to have a next generation of maintainers to keep our fleets of aircraft moving for training and travel service.

The aviation mechanic realm remains highly male-dominated. At the end of 2023, of the 329156 mechanic certificates held, a mere 9202 were held by females (0.9%).

It does at least appear that the trend in certification for mechanics is returning to numbers closer to what we experienced at the turn of the millennium.

Some Random Data Points

Much of the time, we focus our data endeavors on the main paths that people think about. But there are some pretty cool rabbit holes to go down, and less common sectors of aviation are just as valid, sometimes more fun, and often not thought of as frequently.

So, I thought it might be fun to include a few interesting data points at the end here.

  • 71 Recreational Pilots / 7144 Sport Pilots – A rarely used certification process, there are an estimated 71 pilots in our system that are certificated only as Recreational Pilots. This certification has largely been outdated in many instances by those who become certificated only as sport pilots, of which there are 7144.
  • 838 Parachute Riggers – Want your parachute to open properly? Well, you probably want a parachute rigger. At the end of 2023 there were only 838 FAA certificated Parachute Riggers in the system. Many people forget this is even an FAA certificate!
  • 194,332 Flight Attendants – While they may help make your flight more comfortable on a commercial airline, their real job is safety and management of the cabin of the aircraft. At the end of 2023 we had 194,332 such FAA certificated professionals to help keep things safe and in order in our entire commercial aviation system.
  • Most Pilots Have Instrument Ratings – Of the pilots who have private, commercial, or ATP certificates (excluding student, sport, and recreational pilots), 69% are estimated to have instrument ratings. Most pilots who get a private pilot certificate go on to get an instrument rating. Naturally those that are going to be operating on commercial operations commonly will need to do so.
  • 368,633 Remote Pilots – A growing percentage of our certificate airman statistics, the number of remote pilot certificate holders is climbing. Of these, 30,935 are women (8.4%) One must wonder when the number of remote pilot certificate holders will surpass the certificate holders of onboard piloted aircraft? Will that day come? Also interesting on remote pilots, while it might at first thought be surmised that this would be a very young group of individuals adopting the remote pilot certification, the trend of average age for remote pilots has been approximately 42 years old.

CFI Certificate Issuances Increase; Total CFI Certificates Held Decreases for 2023

For the first time since 1999, we experienced a year-to-year overall decrease in the number of holders of FAA Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) certificates. For a long time, the average age of the holder of  CFI certificate was continuing to climb in our U.S. aviation databases. This spiked, and began to turn in a more downward direction in 2017. This also appears it may be a peak point in our CFI certificates held point for the moment.

With the 2023 data, we see that we decreased from 125,075 CFI certificated holders in 2023 to 122577 at the end of 2023. This represents a small, 1.9% decrease, but it is also happening when we are at the same time increasing the number of CFI certificates issued in each year.

We can see from the graph below that we have been increasing the number of CFI certificates issued yearly in the recent past, even surpassing high points of issuance back in the early 1990s.

If we look at more detail, we can find that in 2023 we increased our CFI issuance numbers to 11,337 from what we had in 2022, 8364. This was an increase in issuance numbers of over 35%. In spite of this, we saw that overall small drop in overall numbers of CFI certificates held.

I have a theory here, and it is a simple one. We have CFIs who are simply aging out of the system. Since the CFI certificate (currently) requires the individual to renew the certificate every two years to keep it active, at some point people who are of retirement age eventually stop doing this. This seems to match with our trending up of overall CFI age for many years and now a relatively significant turn being experienced in the past few years of average CFI age.

The largest numbers of CFI certificate issuances are to younger pilots who are entering the career path, utilizing the CFI job to gain experience to make them employable for minimum experience requirements. As we certificate more of these younger CFIs each year, and as the older CFIs retire and no longer keep their certificates active, I expect that this turn in average age will continue. It also seems to indicate that we may see a continued dropoff of total CFI certificate holder numbers that will eventually stabilize at some point at a lower number.

Our baby boomer generation of pilots is aging, and retiring. As this happens, we can see some of the effects tracking in our various pilot population data points. I fully expect us to continue to see a reduction in overall CFI certificate holder numbers in upcoming years as a result.

One might ask, however, if this means we are less able to produce pilot certification due to a lower number of CFIs in our system. On the surface, this might seem a logical assumption, but it doesn’t really track like that.

The youngest of our CFI cadre still tend to provide the bulk of the training for primary certification. Most of our older CFI certificate holders are employed in other professional aviation functions, such as a corporate or airline pilot, and keep their certificates from expiring but are not actively using it on a regular basis for primary training efforts. There are exceptions to this who are engaged with the flight training industry and might be even serving as chiefs in training programs or engaged on other training sectors, but they do not comprise the majority.

In fact, each year there is another interesting data point that helps us understand the activity of our CFI cadre. This is the data point that shows how many CFIs have endorsed at least one, and I mean just one, applicant for a practical test within the year. You can see from the chart here that this is much smaller percentage of our CFI population than the overall total.

As our CFI total numbers go down, and our younger cadre of CFIs goes up, I do expect the percentage of CFIs who do endorse to increase, especially as we increase overall pilot certification efforts.

The bulk of certification training for practical test endorsement continues to be completed by under 20% of our CFI certificate holder core. Even smaller numbers of these CFIs sign off larger numbers of applicants each year (you can see some more detail on this at – How many did you sign off as a CFI in 2023? How do you compare?).

Our CFI population is one that is very transitory in terms of their highly active years. By most accounts, CFIs in heavy training volume operations are there 14-18 months over the past few years before flowing to employment in other professional pilotage positions. Should airline hiring rates decrease, this typically will extend their time service as a CFI. In either case, our more senior CFI certificate holders are not as active, are aging, and appear to be dropping out of our system at a higher rate than in recent years. Some upcoming regulatory changes expected in 2024 may change the reporting of these individuals with regard to their currency as a CFI, and this is something we will need to contextualize when the final rule is published, and its effects are seen.

At this time, it does, however, seem as though our ability to produce CFIs is one that is stable and/or growing and sufficient to keep training for other pilot certificates and ratings moving through our aviation training system.


Pass Rates on Commercial and CFI Practical Tests Stable, Private Pilots Dropping

Some concern has been raised over the past year that anecdotal data was pointing to increased failure rates in practical tests. A decrease in applicant performance. Until we got some data, that was all it was, anecdotal. The good news is that we can now put some data analysis to the question in comparison with previous years and see how we are really doing.

The results of that analysis are good and bad.

Commercial and Instrument Pass Rates Stable; Private Drops

The combined chart here shows us the trending pass rates for primary original issuance certification events in our aviation training system over the past years. We can see that in 2007, 2008, and 2009 we were at a generally higher pass rate than we were in the early 2010s where we saw a little dropoff in each of the certifications. But then we started to improve around 2018.

Pass rates on initial CFI certification actually trended up pretty significantly from the historic rates and private and commercial pilot certification also trended up. Until 2021. We can see the trends in the chart here.

In 2021, we saw a small dropoff in overall pass rate for commercial and CFI practical tests, but a larger dropoff specifically in private pilot certification events. With the 2023 numbers, the commercial and CFI certification pass rates stayed pretty stable, but the private pilot certification rates continued to drop.

For those of you who want to see the numbers in a little more detail, the chart to the right will help illustrate this point in a more granular manner.

While the private pilot pass rate does not differ significantly from the historic averages, it does show a drop over the past couple of years from a high point pass rate of 78% to last year’s pass rate of 74.5%. No, the world hasn’t stopped spinning and it isn’t going to end over this. But it is an indicator that we are not improving our performance, instead regressing a bit.

Why? I am not sure. But I can’t help but think that the super heavy hiring of 2021 and 2022 left us with a very young active instructor cadre and that experience in training counts for something. The lack of that may be proving out in the performance of their students in their testing activities.

LOTS More Test to Give

Ok, I want to very carefully make this next point. It relates to pass rates, demand for practical tests, and the overall increase in testing volume. While of these items are related, they are not necessarily directly relational or causal. But there are integrations.

We continue to see the demand for more pilot certification increase, and this increases the demand for examiner-conducted certification events. Most of this is done by designated pilot examiners, with a few training providers who are FAA Part 141 certificated operations having self-examing authority. The last time the data was conveyed to me, this only represented about 29 or the 570(ish) 141 training providers, so it isn’t the largest percentage by any means.

When we increase the number of tests demanded, and we have more failures, it means we tax our testing system and those that provide those tests even more.

The next chart compares some of this concerning sheer numbers of disapproval issuances by examiners in 2021, 2022, and 2023 overall and specifically for original issuance of private pilot certificates.

We can see that in 2021 examiners were issuing 13891 disapprovals overall, and in 2023 that had increased to 22860. That means that examiners had to conduct at least 9869 additional tests to make up for the disapproval rate. The private pilot disapproval numbers that needed retests increased 46.78% from 2022 to 2023 alone! Ok, this is where I need to be clear also. This is not to indicate that the failure rate went up 46.78%, it is the number of disapprovals that were issued. The failure rate went up 3.5% from 2021 to 2023.

This is probably leaving you asking, well then why did the total disapproval numbers go up that much? The answer is that the overall private pilot certification rate went up significantly also. In 2023 we issued 31950 original issuance private pilot certificates, and in 2022 we issued 24405. That is an increase of overall certification of 7545 more private pilots in 2023 compared with 2022; an increase of 30.9%. This is why I say that the numbers don’t directly correlate. We have a moving total certification number but at the same time a dropping pass rate. The two integrate somewhere in the mix. In either case, one might surmise that pushing through more certifications does not necessarily result in an increase in quality.

Many DPEs I have talked with anecdotally were indicating that they thought here was at least some dropoff in quality, these numbers seem to in part back up that feeling.

Total Test Events Up; DPE Pressure Up

Most in the training environment have indicated continued challenges to source practical tests, with examiners backed up and in high demand. I have been tracking a ratio over the past decade. I have affectionately started personally calling it the DPE Pressure Ratio.

It is a ratio of the number of original and additional issuance approvals and disapprovals issued by examiners for pilot certification.

This chart shows the total number of required activities and the number of DPEs available to serve that need. Averaging this out gives us a required number of tests per DPE average if the tests were spread equally across DPEs in our system.

We can see that our DPE number has gone from 944 to a low point of 785 in 2016 and back up to 969 where we finished off 2023. Considering our certification demand has gone from 60621 to 140954, it has drastically increased the average demand per examiner.

This pressure has been seen throughout our entire aviation system and is, without a doubt, a cause of scheduling backlogs, increased pricing in high-demand markets, and the inability to complete training for some applicants waiting on testing services.

The answer to this demand issue is not a simple one but one that is multi-faceted. A solution probably includes some more DPEs, perhaps fewer part-time and more full-time DPEs, a training system that right sizes itself for the actual availability of testing services, work to decrease failure rates, and potentially alternative testing and certification processes to reduce the pressure.

Unless we are going to reduce the certification demands on our system, this remains a problem that needs address to serve certification testing demands.