2019 Airman Certification Data Released – Data Key Points

Every year when the FAA issues the previous year’s Airman Certification Statistics, I get a little giddy. I know. I’m a dork. But someone has to be, so it’s me. Well, and there are a few others in our industry who do the same. You know who you are. 🙂

This data helps me get a feeling for what our airman certification process, and as a result, our pilot supply pipeline is doing.

With that, I try to pick out some of the highlights and draw attention to them as I see them and ask for input from others.

So, last week, the FAA issued the numbers, and since them, I have been playing with my spreadsheets and seeing how the new data compares with previous years and what it might mean for our aviation system.

So, on to the numbers and some of the things that I have noticed that might be of interest or telling about the state of our pilot training and certification process.

Overall, Pilot Certification Numbers Across all Certificates are Rebounding

Looking back over the past two decades, we generally were seeing a decreasing number of total pilot certification numbers. In the last two years, these have increased again and are trending toward more moderated 20 year trends.


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Bring Back the Solo Dollar!

When I soloed, I didn’t get my shirt cut, water dumped on me or dunked, a bell rung, or a bottle of champagne (I was 16, so that probably would have been a bad idea).

I got a dollar.

But it was a pretty cool dollar.

My instructor gave me a crisp, fresh from the bank, one-whole-dollar to memorialize the moment.

Sounds pretty lame huh?

But it really wasn’t.

It is kind of a play on the military “dollar ride” for which a new student traditionally gives the instructor pilot a dollar for taking them on the ride and a little bit of a play on commemorative options for first solos when a student flies by themselves in an aircraft, a first solo, as a pilot for the first time.

It becomes a commemorative item that signifies your accomplishment. one might even contemplate the future implication that flying would become a paying profession at some point if you continue in the effort and pursue a career. At the age of 16, when I soloed, I didn’t know that would be my path but it certainly ended up being exactly that.

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Finding Knowledge Test Codes on Updated Knowledge Tests – ACS (AKTR) Codes

In January of 2020, the FAA began a transition to knowledge tests that will no show AKTR codes as areas found deficient instead of the previously used LSC codes.

Airman Certification Standards (ACS) Codes on AKTRs
“If the applicant takes a knowledge test covered by a current ACS, the AKTR will include ACS codes pertaining to the questions answered incorrectly. If the applicant takes a knowledge test for which the practical test standards (PTS) are still applicable,.”

For DPEs, CFIs, and applicants, this represents a change in how we all figure out what areas were found deficient in knowledge when someone takes an Airman Knowledge Test. So, to help make it more understandable, I wanted to share a little information about how to read these new codes.

How ACS Codes Work on AKTRs

Codes will be associated with the Knowledge, Skill, or Risk area in the applicable ACS to which the DPE/CFI can find the specific area of deficiency for an applicant.

With that said, lets give it a try and show you couple examples of what this would look like.

From a private pilot practical test report I saw recently, we see codes on the bottom. Picking the first one, we see it is “PA.III.A.K8”.

This code is associated with a section in Private Pilot ACS and allows us if we find that reference to determine the specific knowledge area that was found deficient (eg. the applicant got a question wrong on that topic).

It looks like this in the ACS:

So, if you want to review the proper area, you would probably visit NTSB 830 and do a little extra studying, teaching, or testing if you were the DPE giving this applicant a practical test.

Looking at another example from an Instrument Pilot Airplane Airman Knowledge Test, we might find the following:

The code, as an example, IR.IV.B.S1, would refer to the Instrument PIlot ACS and we might find it covers:

Some extra study of partial panel interpretations or just basic understanding of flight attitude instruments would be in order.

In one more example, this time from a Commercial Pilot Airplane Airman Knowledge Test, we might find:

The representative code I looked at for these example, CA.I.F.K3, would refer to the Commercial Pilot ACS and would highlight the following area for some additional study:

It is pretty easy to reference once you do it a couple times, and it gives us more detail than in the past about what specifically should be focused on for some additional study, training, and testing.

Now you know.

Hope this helps as we all work to transition to the new and improved AKTR codes on FAA Airman Knolwedge Tests!

Worth noting, LSC Codes will exist for PTS based checkrides or tests prior to January 20, 2020. These will still be present on some tests for the up to 24 months they remain valid. So, if you are working with a legacy test that shows the LSC codes, you can still find those codes here:


Need to find the ACS for an applicable test?

Visit: https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acs/

Some Reasons the Pilot Shortage May Be Worse Because of COVID-19

COVID-19 has put a major hiccup into our aviation system. Professional pilots are not flying and training providers are shut down and their customers have had to stop training. This is going to make the pilot shortage we have seen worse over the next couple years.

Some will say that there will be a bunch of furloughed pilots who will fill the needs when we get back up and running. On the surface, this may appear to be something that will stem the pilot shortage, but in fact, there are systemic factors that may actually exacerbate the pilot shortage when we come out of our shutdown.

Many pilots will not return to service.

In any major industry downturn that has historically seen pilots get furloughed, a certain percentage of these pilots do not return to working as airline pilots when, or if, they are called back. There are many factors that lead to this from an inability to wait out the “callback” for financial reasons, to career changing options, and many more. But this time there is a major piece that is going to affect this. Early retirement options.

Most of the major airlines are offering pilots who are above the age of 62 early retirement packages whereas they will pay out a described minimum set of hours monthly until that pilot reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65.

This makes financial sense for the airlines. It puts their most expensive (high seniority) pilots on lower hours and reduces the overall cost to the airline over those years while they can back fill those vacancies with pilots who are lower on the seniority list cost less to the airline. Continue reading