Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I Certify ...

Logbook endorsements that an authorized instructor can make are quite varied, but most endorsements confer or continue some sort of pilot privilege. An instructor's endorsement saying you have completed a flight review, that you are competent to fly a tailwheel aircraft, that you've completed an instrument proficiency check, or that you are proficient to fly solo in a particular make and model are just a few examples.

I've made thousands of endorsements and I often get the impression that many pilots don't really give much thought to what the instructor is putting on the line when they sign their name and write down their certificate number. Many pilots just want the endorsement and think that going through the motions and writing a few checks will suffice. Pilots with this attitude who also fail to meet the required standards are usually not very happy with me. So whether you are a pilot who needs to complete a flight review, a student who is itching to solo, or you want to become instrument current, here are some suggestions.

The recommended format for the various endorsements can be found in the FAA's publication AC 61-65: Certification of Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors. The instructor may add restrictions or other words as they see fit, but that is usually reserved for student pilot endorsements. NAFI, the National Association of Flight Instructors, has their own recommended format. AOPA sends endorsement stickers to me every now and then as an enticement to support them, not unlike charitable or political organizations who send me return address stickers with my name and address.

My first suggestion is to take some time and actually read the text of the endorsement you are seeking.

The first thing you'll notice is that almost every endorsement that a flight instructor makes begins with the words "I certify that ..." Many students and pilots don't seem to understand or care about the legal weight those words carry. If an instructor provides a pilot with an endorsement and that pilot later gets into trouble or comes to grief, the record of training the instructor provided may come under the scrutiny of the FAA. If the pilot is involved in an incident or accident, insurance companies may try to lay the liability at the feet of the instructor who most recently gave that pilot instruction. Most full-time, professional instructors I know carry liability insurance and, let me add, it ain't cheap and it can't cover all the possible losses that may occur.

One sure-fire way for an instructor to get into trouble is to just sign a pilot's logbook without providing the required training or ensuring that the pilot meets the required standards. Instructors are required to keep a copy of the training they provide and any endorsements they make. Logbooks provide precious little space for instructors to provide a description of the training. In fact, the space is so small that I usually find some other unused space to sign my name, provide my certificate, and my certificate's expiration date. And don't me started on the poor wording of the pre-printed endorsements provided in some logbooks.

My second suggestion is always ensure that your instructor has correctly endorsed your logbook and described any training that they provided to you.

Once you've read the endorsement for the privilege you are pursuing, check out any regulatory references. Consider the student solo endorsement:
I certify that (First name, MI, Last name) has received the required training to qualify for solo flying. I have determined he/she meets the applicable requirements of section 61.87(n) and is proficient to make solo flights in (make and model).
Check out 14 CFR 61.87(n) and you'll find all the requirements you must meet before your instructor can give you this endorsement, including a written pre-solo knowledge test as well as ground and flight operations. Note that there are no specific performance standards, just the assessment by your instructor that you are "proficient."

Another example,:
I certify that (First name, MI, Last name), (pilot certificate), (certificate number), has satisfactorily completed the instrument proficiency check of section 61.57(d) in a (list make and model of aircraft) on (date).
references 14 CFR 61.57(d). Read that section of the regulations and you'll find the instrument proficiency check must be in the appropriate category of aircraft, administered by an authorized flight instructor (or designated examiner or check airman), and include the tasks referenced in the Instrument Rating Practical Test Standards. Check out the Instrument Rating PTS, you'll find a table of all the tasks required for an instrument proficiency check, and you'll know what you must demonstrate and the standards you must meet to complete the IPC. Granted, there are a lot of references that you have to chase down, but this is the regulatory world in which pilots live and fly.

This leads to my third suggestion: Don't assume that just because you've paid your instructor, you've logged some time, or that you've held your certificate for some period of time that you're entitled to an endorsement.

Realize that proficiency and currency are fleeting. Remember that should you run afoul of the FAA in some manner, you can be asked at any time to demonstrate your proficiency with an FAA inspector. Meeting performance standards can be tough and if you don't like being evaluated on a regular basis, you should stay away from aviation.

My last suggestion is more of a request: If you don't meet the standards, you won't get the endorsement you want and it is counterproductive and pointless to blame the instructor you've selected for your training. If the training takes longer that you'd like and cost you more than you want to pay, remember that it's an investment in your safety and the safety of those who fly with you.

Many endorsements that a flight instructor can give you do not reference any flight performance standards. However, that is soon going to change. More on that in the next installment.


Colin Summers said...

Sadly, I do not like being evaluated on a regular basis. Or, for that matter, at all. I trust myself to learn things, and I enjoy the constructive criticism of my peers and betters, but I do not for a second believe that my government has really figured out a way to promise me safety if I follow their poorly worded regulations (any more than I trust them to safeguard my retirement or provide my health care in my golden years).

I'll stick with aviation anyway, because I love it. I have been fortunate and although my check rides have both been the worst flying I have done, I have managed to pass. I've never made the mistake I made on my private pilot ride since that day. I'd never made the mistake I made on the instrument check ride before or since.

My CFI for the PP crossed out words and phrases in the pre-printed endorsements. He also neglected to give me an endorsement to fly home from the check ride if I failed (it was far afield and apparently would have required one, or it was night).

John said...


While I share your frustration with the way regulations are worded, understanding and following them will usually keep a pilot out of trouble. Or at least reduce the likelihood.

There are some new efforts underway at the FAA to more closely tie recurrent training to safety. More on that later ...

Anonymous said...

A wise old instructor explained to me many years ago that we only need endorsements if we don't own the plane. Over the years I've come to understand his wisdom, and so I've spent my money on aircraft ownership instead of using it to line the pockets of the FBO's, and the oh so "conscientious" instructors who miss no opportunity to redistribute student wealth.

It's no different than any other guild, although this one enlists the power of government to enforce the dues paying. I wonder how long it took for the Endorcers of the time to realize Orville & Wilbur had conducted their flights without their critical attentions.

John said...

Okay Anonymous, you propose some unconventional arguments.

As an aircraft owner, you are exempt from any regulations requiring an endorsement.

Flight instructors and FBOs are nefarious organizations who seek to redistribute wealth by taking money from pilots that they train.

Flight instructors are in cahoots with the Federal government and we all know flight instructor are some of the most highly paid professionals out there. Right behind dog groomers.

Orville and Wilbur Wright didn't have to follow any regulations and therefore neither should we.


One infers that as an aircraft owner, you have managed to redistribute enough wealth to yourself to afford it. However, professional flight instructors are not entitled to earn a living. Oh, and besides, you already have everything aeronautical already figured out and you don't need to be evaluated.

And I assume that the wise old flight instructor who taught you did so at no charge, right? The designated examiner you used probably also did the check ride gratis.

I think you were correct in not identifying yourself because that's got to be one of the more bizarre comments I've ever read.