A working group made up ofand industry representatives is developing integrated standards that will guide the creation and maintenance of the written, oral and practical aircraft mechanic test. Once completed, the airman certification standards (ACS) will replace current practical test standards (PTS) and clearly dictate the knowledge, risk management and skills required of an FAA-certificated mechanic.
The airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic exam tests the basic knowledge and skills required to perform or supervise the maintenance, preventive maintenance or alteration of an aircraft or appliance (within the privileges and limitations of §65.81). The written test assesses the applicant’s knowledge (see §65.75) and the oral and practical test assesses his or her skill level (see §65.79). Currently, the PTS provides the framework for the oral and practical tests; there is no corresponding document to guide development of the written test.
Government and industry representatives agree that the A&P mechanic tests need improvement. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Associate Professor Charles Horning, a working group member, believes the ACS will produce better-prepared mechanics. “The current PTS does not reflect what is expected of a newly minted mechanic in the real world,” Horning says. “The ACS will create a better baseline and provide a standard to guide the development and continual review of minimum knowledge and skills required.”
The ACS is the brainchild of the Airman Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee, a group chartered in 2011 and made up of pilot community and FAA representatives. Aviation Supplies & Academics curriculum director Jackie Spanitz says the standard was created to address some very familiar challenges. “The first ACS was initiated as an effort to fix the pilot knowledge tests,” she says. “With many questions [on the exam] that seemed outdated, irrelevant and more tricky than meaningful, test preparation became an exercise in memorizing correct answers.” Since the private and instrument ACS went into effect in June, every question in the corresponding knowledge test banks has been reviewed by a diverse group of FAA subject matter experts and an outside (industry) member with expertise in test question development. Questions that do not align with the new standards have been edited or archived.
The change has been well received by the pilot community, says FAA working group lead Susan Parson: “The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. The level of engagement in this process is amazing, and we are delighted by the active role our industry colleagues are taking to provide comments and suggestions for improvement. We are already working on the first round of revisions in response to public feedback received.” Parson added, “the ACS is truly a product of agency and industry collaboration, and its success is reflected in the quality of the final product.” Standards for commercial, airline transport pilot and flight instructor candidates are in development and expected to be released in 2017.
Using the process created, implemented and tested by the pilot community, the aviation maintenance technician (AMT) ACS development is well underway. Once completed, the ACS will provide a guide for reviewing and revising handbooks, oral questions, practical projects and the knowledge test bank to ensure adherence with the standard. That means outdated questions and projects will be replaced with relevant assessment material, and incorrect, incomplete or inadequate questions and projects will be updated or removed. Thereafter, the standard will be periodically reviewed and revised to ensure it is in line with mechanic knowledge and skill requirements as technology evolves.
The Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) is taking an active role to get the word out, soliciting feedback on the latest draft and taking industry comments back to the ACS working group for consideration. ATEC President and Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology Chief Aviation and Academic Officer Ryan Goertzen builds educational programs around industry needs, so he has first-hand knowledge of the success that can be attained through collaboration.
“The ACS is a great opportunity for the maintenance community to create a product that will have across-the-board implications. Changes to the minimum knowledge and skill requirements for an entry-level mechanic would allow aviation maintenance technician schools to better design their programs, narrowing the knowledge gap for new A&Ps and saving the industry millions in training costs,” a statement from ATEC says.
The AMT ACS is in its preliminary stages of development—an estimated publication date has not been set. The FAA invites review and comment on the latest version on its website and provides more information on its ACS webpage.