2023 Airman Knowledge Test Numbers Show Increase Year-to-Year, Again.

The FAA’s airman knowledge testing numbers for 2023 were just released, and to little surprise, increases in testing volume were again experienced in most categories. With active hiring, a very positive outlook on the career path being spread, and training providers ramping up to meet demand, 2023 again looks to include peak pilot production levels.

Across the most common tests, we saw increases in volume as can be seen on the following chart tracking some of the most common tests in our industry including private pilot airplane, instrument rating airplane, commercial pilot airplane, ATP multi- and single-engine airplane, CFI airplane, and sport pilot tests.

This increasing volume trend has been seen over the past few years and is an indicator that we are likely to see the same in corresponding airman certificate issuance numbers (which we will likely see out in the near future). Knowledge test volume trends historically have corresponded closely with the next step in the airman certification process, practical test volumes, and airman certificate issuances.

When we compare year to year, we see that most tests saw double-digit percentage-based increases in volumes even from 2022-2023. The only of these main tests that did not was the ATP airplane multi- and single-engine tests, although that additionally saw a significant increase. These points can be seen in this table.

These data points are just that, points, and can’t tell us everything about our industry. But they can show us that with increasing volumes flight training efforts are doing their part to continue to expand capacity to training pilots to meet future employment demands these pilots may be seeking to fill.

Sport Pilot numbers are flat, but can MOSAIC change that?

With the comment period on FAA’s MOSAIC NPRM (https://www.regulations.gov/document/FAA-2023-1377-0001) closing just yesterday, there is some hope in the industry that a final rule when issued will allow greater numbers of aircraft to be utilized effectively for sport pilot training. While we have seen very flat numbers of sport pilot testing over the past couple of decades, this potential change might finally make a change in the numbers of pilots seeking sport pilot certification. This will be an interesting point to watch over time and as a final rule is issued and becomes effective.

For those who would like to see more detailed numbers, here is a table of the issuances on a year-by-year basis and included the total FAA knowledge test volume for all tests the FAA offers.

A Great use for DPIC in Commercial Pilot Certification

Commercial pilot certification is a process that requires pilots have specific and somewhat varied experience tasks completed to be eligible for the commercial pilot certificate. One of the requirements listed relates to night flying experience.

Specifically, a commercial pilot must have at least “5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.” How this experience is designated is worth digging into more deeply as we consider a very specific application of part of the regulation that is commonly misunderstood.

14 CFR § 61.129 – Aeronautical experience indicates in part of the section that a pilot must complete:

“Ten hours of solo flight time in a single engine airplane or 10 hours of flight time performing the duties of pilot in command in a single engine airplane with an authorized instructor on board (either of which may be credited towards the flight time requirement under paragraph (a)(2) of this section), on the areas of operation listed under § 61.127(b)(1) that include—

(i) One cross-country flight of not less than 300 nautical miles total distance, with landings at a minimum of three points, one of which is a straight-line distance of at least 250 nautical miles from the original departure point. However, if this requirement is being met in Hawaii, the longest segment need only have a straight-line distance of at least 150 nautical miles; and

(ii) 5 hours in night VFR conditions with 10 takeoffs and 10 landings (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower.”

I bolded three parts of this section of regulation to help us highlight how this might be relevant in a way not as commonly considered.

The intent of the regulatory text here is that a pilot seeking a commercial pilot certificate be able to fly on their own without the help of a flight instructor to complete some cross-country and night flying experience. But this clause is commonly used when pilots are seeking initial pilot commercial certification in multi-engine aircraft and for insurance reasons are unable to allow low-time students to solo the aircraft to meet these requirements. It allows for the pilot to “perform the duties of pilot in command” while an instructor rides along on the flight. While this might be the most common use of this clause, another might be equally valuable.

Imagine the case of a pilot who has a medical certificate with a night restriction due to color blindness. Such a pilot would not be able to solo an aircraft at night to meet the requirements. As such, without this clause, they would not be able to meet all the requirements of a commercial pilot certificate. This clause offers the ability for a pilot who finds themselves in such a scenario the option to complete their commercial pilot certificate by allowing a CFI to conduct the flight with them as the PIC while they “exercise the duties of pilot in command” to meet the night flight requirements.

While a pilot who finds themselves limited to not being able to fly at night due to a medical certificate restriction may not end up flying commercially as an airline pilot or a charter pilot, they certainly might choose to make use of a commercial pilot certificate to fly skydivers, give rides, tow banners or gliders, or even be a CFI. This unique clause is a small, infrequently used, but potentially very helpful option for a pilot who needs to complete the requirement.

This is a great option for CFIs to know about if they encounter a pilot who is restricted from flying at night and might need to make use of this niche application of the rules.

ASA Commercial Oral Exam Guide Updated, by ME!

The Eleventh Edition of the Aviation Supplies and Academics (ASA) Commercial Pilot Oral Exam Guide was just released on January 15, 2024. Originally written by Michael D. Hayes, after his retirement I was honored with the opportunity to help keep this book up-to-date going forward.

ASA’s Oral Exam Guide Series is an excellent study tool for students and instructors alike. Arranged in a question-and-answer format, this comprehensive guide lists the questions most likely to be asked by evaluators during the practical exam and provides succinct, ready responses. FAA references are provided throughout for further study.

Check out the updated book at:


How many did you sign off as a CFI in 2023? How do you compare?

Every year I find the reporting of how many CFIs signed off any applicants for a practical test a very interesting data point. While I don’t have the end-of-year numbers just yet regarding how many total CFI certificates were held to allow us to analyze this data on a percentage basis, we can see how many CFIs signed off at least one applicant for a practical test in 2023.

The data further breaks down the number of instructors who signed off applicants in ranges of numbers to see how many CFIs were more or less active.

With the transient employment function of many CFIs who only do the job for a limited period of time before moving on to other career jobs as professional aviators, it is not unexpected that few CFIs sign off larger numbers of applicants for certificates and ratings in any given year. We can also infer that those CFIs that sign off larger numbers of applicants typically include CFIs who are focusing on students for add-on certificates or ratings for which a smaller training footprint is needed, requiring less time of the CFI and allowing them to work with more students in a given year.

So, if you are a CFI, here are the 2023 numbers. Enjoy comparing where you might fit into them!