Terms to Know

Terms to Know

Nice job on getting a 94 on your written. Should make your ride go a lot smoother. Don’t lose those test results—you’ll need to present them to the examiner. Speaking of that, I scheduled you with Katherine out of the FSDO on Tuesday. The weather is looking good—might be IFR in the morning until the sun burns off the fog but should be VFR by the time the flight portion rolls around. Don’t forget to bring your logbook and medical, and if all goes well, I suggest getting you into the multi next week. Also, have you given more thought to becoming a CFI? Sean and Morgan just got hired by the regionals and will be leaving soon. Anyway, think about it—it’s a good way to get your total-time up, and before you know it, you’ll be right there with them.

The Federal Aviation Administration. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the regulatory agency of the federal government that oversees aviation as a whole. Basically, they’re the ones who tell you what you can and cannot do as a pilot. Oftentimes people refer to the FAA as The Feds.

Typically the first certificate one receives as a pilot, and upon successful completion of your Practical Exam, you will hold this certificate. Although not technically accurate, sometimes people call it a Pilot’s License. Generally, a Private Pilot Certificate will allow you fly for fun, with friends and family, day or night. There are some limitations, however: you cannot fly into clouds or when the visibility is poor (VFR/VMC Conditions only), and you may not be employed as a pilot. There are others, but those are the biggies. Some schools refer to this as a PPL.

The Instrument Rating usually follows the Private Pilot Certificate, but it doesn’t have to. An Instrument Rating allows some flexibility to fly when the weather deteriorates—into clouds and when the visibility is poor (IFR/IMC Conditions) using only the aircraft’s instruments to fly straight and level and navigate. This is a very general explanation, however, and you will learn the finer details as you go through your training. Some schools refer to this as an IPL.

In short, A Commercial Pilot Certificate allows a pilot to get a job as a pilot. That said, while you now hold the credentials to be hired, opportunities are slim, as the pilot is usually considered low-time and has yet to gain adequate experience. For example: a pilot that successfully completes the Commercial Pilot Practical Exam generally does so with around 250 hours of total time. In order to meet the minimums for a regional airline, pilot applicants generally need 1,000-1,500 hours total time and 50-100 hours of multi-engine time. Total time requirements for major airline minimums are even higher. Each airline has its own requirements. Some schools refer to this as a CPL. One of the most common jobs for a new commercial pilot is a Certified Flight instructor.

Most pilots consider the initial Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating to be hands-down the most challenging and rewarding certificate they pursue. As an applicant, your focus changes from knowing the rules, regulations, theory and physics to teaching them. The added benefits of flight instruction cannot be overstated: everything from a deeper knowledge base to CRM skills. Other common instructor certificates include the CFII and MEI.

The CFII is a Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (often called a CF-double-i). This is an add-on to the CFI rating to allow the instructor to teach Instrument Rating students.

The MEI simply means Multi-engine Instructor—an instructor who is qualified to teach in aircraft with two or more engines (multi-engine airplane).

The highest level of pilot qualification is known as the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate (ATP). The ATP is required to act as PIC for an airline and oftentimes for corporate and cargo aviation, depending on insurance requirements. The ATP Practical Exam requires specialized training in advanced flight simulators. Some schools call this ATPL.

Pilots are required to demonstrate a level of medical fitness. An Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) is a doctor authorized by the FAA to perform these exams. Several classes of medical are available (First-Class, Second-Class, Third-Class), and all cover basics like vision and hearing. Third-Class medicals are generally the least stringent, while First-Class medicals are the most. Medicals vary in duration depending on the class and the age of the pilot. A student pilot is only required to hold a Third-Class medical; however, it’s usually in the person’s best interest to get a First-Class at least once early in their primary training, especially if they have airline aspirations. Imagine spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours learning to fly, only to find out later you have a medically disqualifying condition and are unable to hold a First-Class medical—yikes!

All certificates and most ratings require a written exam. Written exams are timed, computer-based, multiple choice, and vary in length depending on the test. The test can be taken at any point during your training, but most instructors will encourage you to get it done sooner rather than later. Questions cover broad categories such as regulations, weather, flight planning, and aerodynamics. All possible questions and answers are made available by the FAA, and books and software are commercially available to help study. A passing grade is 70% or better, and the results of the exam are presented to the examiner on the day of your practical exam.

The practical exam is the exam a pilot applicant takes when sitting for a certificate or rating. It is most commonly referred to as a checkride or simply ride (although the FAA does not use these terms). It is made up of two portions: the oral portion and flight portion.

The day of your practical exam, you will sit down with the examiner where he or she will review your training documents, logbook, and results of your written exam to ensure you’ve met the requirements to sit for the practical exam. After which, the oral portion will begin, which is generally designed to be a conversational question/answer session. Some questions may not have a correct answer—not because they’re trying to “get you” (they’re not allowed to do that) but, because just because something may be legal doesn’t necessarily make it a safe or a good idea—especially for a new pilot—and they simply want to talk about it. A variety of topics are covered, such as regulations, weather, flight planning, and aerodynamics. They’re similar to the written exam, but more in-depth. A typical oral exam will last about two hours but will vary depending on how prepared you are.

After successful completion of the oral portion, you will take the flight portion. This is where you and the examiner fly together, and he or she will evaluate your skills as a pilot. Most, if not all, of the maneuvers you’ve trained for will be evaluated and will generally take 1.5 to 2 hours.

Once both the oral portion and the flight portion are satisfactorily completed, the examiner will issue you a temporary airman certificate for the certificate or rating sought, with the permanent certificate to arrive in the mail in a few weeks’ time.

A logbook is similar to a financial ledger but details flight hours instead of money. It utilizes columns to record flight time, such as dual, solo, day/night, total-time, etc. Logbooks can be either paper or electronic.

An industry term for the Practical Exam.

A person authorized by the FAA to conduct a Practical Exam. This person may be an FAA employee or a person designated by the FAA. A person designated by the FAA is known as a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).

There are no minimum FAA requirements for the flight instructor certificate. However, most students average 15 hours of Flight instruction, including classroom instruction techniques, before achieving competency as set forth in the FAA Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards. Each Individual may require more or less time depending on past experience, knowledge, and currency.

There are no minimum FAA requirements for the flight instructor certificate. However, most students average 15 hours of Flight instruction, including classroom instruction techniques, before achieving competency as set forth in the FAA Flight Instructor Practical Test Standards. Each Individual may require more or less time depending on past experience, knowledge, and currency.

Designated Pilot Examiner.

Aviation Medical Examiner. A doctor authorized by the FAA to perform medicals and issue medical certificates.

Relating to weather, VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules. VMC stands for Visual Meteorological Conditions (think of this as ‘nice weather’). As a Private Pilot only, you are limited to flying in VMC and are governed by VFR as per the CFRs.

Relating to weather, IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules. IMC stands for Instrument Meteorological Conditions. As an Instrument Pilot, you may (to a degree) fly in IMC and are governed by IFR as per the CFRs.

Flight simulator is a catch-all term for a machine designed to resemble the cockpit of an aircraft. Used for training, they may be as simple as a software operated on an average desktop PC, or highly advanced, replicating every detail of a large airliner or corporate jet complete with hydraulic motion. Different levels of simulators have different names.

An airplane with one engine (usually attached to the nose). Most common type of aircraft used for initial pilot training.

An airplane with more than one engine (usually attached to the wings). Training primarily focuses on the unique aerodynamic characteristics and emergencies associated with flying a multi-engine airplane.

used to describe smaller aircraft with advanced equipment on board—specifically advanced avionics like GPS and glass panel displays.

A type of avionics package that uses electronic screens in lieu of traditional round gauges. Resembling a large iPad or multiple iPads, they display all the same aircraft information but in a new and modern way, and when used correctly, the can offer an increased level of situational awareness. Not long ago this type of avionics package was only available on very expensive jets, however, as the price has dropped over the years, they have become more common in entry-level aircraft, and many owners and operators have elected to partially or fully upgrade to these systems.

Global Positioning System. A means of navigation by use of satellites.

Regional Airlines are airlines that usually fly shorter routes, fly smaller jets (compared to Major Airlines), and have the ability to fly into smaller (regional) airports. Regional Airlines often partner with one or more Major Airlines. For example, a Regional Airline Pilot may work for and get paid by SkyWest Airlines, but the side of the plane is painted as Delta Connection. Oftentimes they’re simply referred to as The Regionals. Regional Airlines operate under part 121 of the CFRs.

Bridging the gap between Regional and Major Airlines is the Low-Cost carriers. Specifically designed for passengers on a tight budget, they often omit the frills of the Major Airlines, such as in-flight meals, snacks, and entertainment. They often serve the same airports as Regional and Major Airlines but may change on a seasonal basis. Some Low-Cost carriers include Spirit, Frontier, and Sun Country. Low-Cost Airlines operate under part 121 of the CFRs.

Major Airlines, also known as Legacy Carriers, are the airlines that generally provide (or attempt to provide) the highest level of service. They operate in and out of some of the world’s busiest airports. Some Major Airlines include Delta, American, and United. Major Airlines operate under part 121 of the CFRs.

If airlines were to be considered buses, then charter operators would be considered taxis (or limos). Generally, charter operators fly smaller, executive style aircraft designed to carry a handful of people versus many dozens. Like the airlines, they may also fly cargo. Charter companies range (in terms of number of aircraft and pilots) from very large to very small and are regulated by 14CFR§135.

Short for Code of Federal Regulations. Aviation falls under 14CFR and includes several parts (often using the § the symbol). For example, the airline industry is regulated under 14CFR§121. Charter operations are regulated under 14CFR§135. The old name for CFRs is FARs (Federal Aviation Regulations) and is still often used by pilots—they are essentially the same thing. Old habits die hard.

Term used to describe the FAA or an FAA employee.

Without a doubt, learning to fly is expensive. But not nearly as expensive as it is in other parts of the world. Because of this, it is not uncommon for foreign students to learn to fly in the United States. They will often earn their FAA certificates, then sit for an additional exam to the standards set forth by that country or agency. Many foreign agencies use the abbreviations PPL/IPL/CPL/ATPL for Private/Instrument/Commercial/Airline Transport certificates.

Pilot in Command. This is the person ultimately responsible for an aircraft’s operation and safety during flight.

There is no official definition for low-time, but most professional aviators would probably consider a pilot with fewer than 1,500 hours total-time to be low-time.

All the flight time one has logged as a pilot—could be in an airplane, helicopter, glider, etc. or any combination thereof. Hiring managers use this as a guideline to gauge pilot experience.

Crew Resource Management. This is a set of procedures for use in environments where human error can have devastating effects. In aviation, CRM focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making.

The time in which a student is receiving flight instruction.

The time in which a student is the sole occupant of the aircraft, acting as PIC, but prior to the student taking the required Practical Exam.

Flight Standards District Office, a local branch of the FAA.

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