NTSB To FAA: Watch Those CFIs

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The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a set of recommendations to the FAA intended to increase scrutiny on flight-instructor performance. Using the 2019 crash of a parachute-jump Beech King Air in Hawaii as the impetus, the NTSB’s latest recommendations ask the FAA to more closely watch pass/fail rates of students from any given instructor to help detect sub-par training. The June 2019 accident resulted in 11 deaths, including the pilot, after the Oahu Parachute Center King Air impacted terrain shortly after takeoff. 

The NTSB said that the “accident pilot had failed three initial flight tests in his attempts to obtain his private pilot certificate, instrument rating, and commercial pilot certificate after receiving instruction from a single instructor. The pilot subsequently passed each flight test. The … accident pilot was not alone in his failed attempts; the pass rate for other students taught by the same flight instructor was 59 percent (for the two-year period ending in April 2020). FAA data show the average national pass rate for students of all flight instructors is 80 percent.” According to NTSB documents, the accident pilot trained with Ritter Aviation in Torrance, California.

The instructor operated a Beech C90GTx out of Torrance and, according to the NTSB documentation, “During his initial flight training, the accident pilot logged about 53 hours in the King Air C90GTx airplane, but this time was logged during flights that included
extended cross-country commercial Part 91 operations conducted with passengers in the cabin. In addition, the flight time was primarily logged as dual instruction while the accident pilot was still a student pilot. Thus, the flight instructor had provided training that the accident pilot could not have been expected to fully comprehend as a student pilot, and the flights were most likely conducted by the flight instructor with the accident pilot sitting in the copilot seat.”

The NTSB admitted that while a system does exist to track pass/fail rates from specific instructors, it lacks an automated component to alert CFIs when their students fall below the FAA’s 80% threshold. A pass rate below 80% is considered “substandard.” The NTSB contends that the accident pilot’s sole instructor “was not receiving appropriate additional scrutiny” for his charges’ low pass rates.

The recommendations from the NTSB and the FAA are as follows:

• Develop a system to automatically notify your inspectors of those flight instructors (within each inspector’s geographic area of responsibility) whose student pass rate in the Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem has become substandard so that the inspectors can perform additional surveillance according to the guidance in Order 8900.1, Flight Standards Information Management System, volume 6, chapter 1, section 5, “Surveillance of a Certificated Flight Instructor.” (A-20-40) 

• Until the system proposed in Safety Recommendation A-20-40 is implemented, direct your inspectors to (1) review the Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem on an ongoing basis to identify those flight instructors (within each inspector’s geographic area of responsibility) with a substandard student pass rate and (2) provide additional surveillance of those instructors according to the guidance in Order 8900.1, Flight Standards Information Management System, volume 6, chapter 1, section 5, “Surveillance of a Certificated Flight Instructor.” (A-20-41)

• Revise Order 8900.1, Flight Standards Information Management System, volume 6, chapter 1, section 5, “Surveillance of a Certificated Flight Instructor,” to include flight instructors with a substandard student pass rate as one of the criteria necessitating additional surveillance of a flight instructor. (A-20-42)

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15 COMMENTS

  1. “The NTSB admitted that while a system does exist to track pass/fail rates from specific instructors, it lacks an automated component to alert CFIs when their students fall below the FAA’s 80% threshold. ”

    Every CFI I have dealt with in the more than 50 years I’ve been in the FBO business knows what his pass rate is–his CFI renewal may DEPEND on it. Given the type of instruction (primary or advanced)–the number of students recommended–a pass rate of more than 80% will allow the instructor to present himself to the FAA for renewal of his instructor certificate.

    61.197 shows NINE WAYS to renew the CFI. Perhaps the easiest way is to endorse 5 students or more within the past 24 months for an additional certificate or rating–with an 80% pass rate.

    Makes you wonder if the NTSB actually reads the FARs before making their “recommendations.”

  2. From the NTSB report–“The NTSB found the Mokuleia accident pilot had failed three initial flight tests in his attempts to obtain his private pilot certificate, instrument rating, and commercial pilot certificate after receiving instruction from a single instructor. The pilot subsequently passed each flight test.”

    So–the pilot failed 3 previous flight tests–but now they want to make FLIGHT INSTRUCTORS PERMANENTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYONE THAT HAS TAKEN INSTRUCTION FROM THEM? (crazy)

    Note that it ALSO says that “The pilot subsequently passed each flight test.” THINK about that–why are they recommending that the FAA get tougher on INSTRUCTORS–when the FAA DESIGNATED PILOT EXAMINER passed that pilot–THREE TIMES–yet they don’t mention any culpability on THEIR part!

    If this were to stand, you’ll find a lot of flight instructors getting out of the business. The risk is just too high and the reward is just too little to be responsible for the performance of anyone you’ve given dual instruction to–not to mention what will happen to insurance rates–AND THE RATES FOR DUAL INSTRUCTION.

    No matter WHAT THE QUESTION IS–THE GOVERNMENT ANSWER IS “MORE REGULATION.”

  3. Typical Govt reaction to problem solving..lets have a meeting to decide who shall chair the study group for the meeting to assass “the problem” …then find a scapegoat and pin the donkey..er scapegoat as the problem…next have a meeting to decide who will chair the subcommittee to review the initial study group findings…wait for next problem to solve so that NO viable solution to any existing problem is ever solved… Hiss at everyone who challenges to process… It’s all in “the science”

  4. This is a more complicated issue than first meets the eye.

    I did most of my flight training on Oahu, and also gave some remedial private ground school in the 90’s for local students who could barely read.

    1) The Hawaii public schools in Hawaii are substandard. Think “banana republic” bad. By the time somebody is 18, that’s not a fixable problem.

    2) Doing practical tests in Honolulu are more difficult because of Class B. So you could have a student fail once just from the local airspace and radio complexity, whereas he could pass on the mainland. Does that mean he should be washed out? Depends on each case.

    3) Back in the 90’s, there was some kind of war between Hawaiian FAA inspectors and CFI’s, so Hawaiian CFI’s were sending their CFI candidates to the mainland to get a fair ride.

    (Don’t get me started about Hawaiian inspectors crashing the only rental Seneca around at HNL.)

    4) And worst of all, young people’s minds are distracted by smartphones and social media these days. We should also be tracking test scores to see if those are falling as well.

    I would say it would take a lot of intervention in Honolulu to maintain any kind of airman training standard, but longer term this may be a nation-wide issue (see Colgan.) Flight training requires people who can focus and are self-objective, and that’s not where our society is headed. I hear even drivers licenses are issued in fewer numbers these days.

  5. This is a ridiculous recommendation. Does the FAA flag the examiner who passes too many initial rides? If they have a fail quota (unspoken or not), we better not have a pass quota.

    Also, IACRA needs to add a feature to provide CFIs with a list of past sign-offs on demand. I worked for a busy flight school, and when it came time to go in for my renewal and gold-seal, I had to provide my own list, they couldn’t look it up. Thats fine, I keep my own matrix but…huh? You can’t tell me IACRA doesn’t have the capability to generate a list when queried. How are they going to keep track of pass rate if the FSDO can’t even look that info up?

    Lastly, we don’t control student test performance. My “standard” is plus/minus 0 on all maneuvers. My average primary student is well into 60 hrs TT before they take the test, has gone above and beyond the ACS requirements, and are usually more than ready before I sign them off. While most pass the first ride, not all do. Some students are great, safe pilots but have checkride failure in their DNA. Im convinced some examiners just get a wild hair. Given same transgression, different student, one will be given a slap on the wrist and a pass and one will be straight up failed.

    Checkride failure has too many variables to pin it on the instructor. There needs to be some additional criteria besides pass rate to flag a problem CFI.

  6. Unfortunately there is a fail quota for DPE’s. Although not written there is subtle pressure from the FSDO if your pass rate is too high. Unfortunately this causes examiners to try to find reasons to fail an applicant. I was a DPE and resigned from the program of my own choice in good standing. Interesting comparison as a previous FAA designated examiner for a 121 airline the FSDO has no problem with a 100% pass rate for pilots, there was not a pass/fail quota.

    As a CFI for 50 years it is a sad state of affairs that the instructors are the target. The professionals that devote the most to teaching people how to to fly end up being the ones to blame for FAA failures. The DPE is the final judgement on a pilots ability to safely meet the ACS standards.

    • Yes, I heard about the DPE failure quota back in the day around that time.

      I was also in Honolulu during the “DPEs are required to hold a current medical” drama, even if the pilot candidate had one. The very active old-timer DPE involved was basically forced into unpaid retirement over that. I still don’t get it.

  7. I have been out of the flight instruction business for a few years so anyone who has an answer go ahead. Back in the 90’s the FAA started requiring initial CFI check rides be done by the local FSDO. Thats where I got mine done. Is this still being done now? If so then the FAA has no one else to blame but themselves.

    • If the FSDO checkride was going to be delayed by a certain amount of time, they would allow it to go with a DPE. Been retired and very part-time a few years – not sure what they are doing now.

      I’m surprised by this recommendation now because I was told so many years ago that the FSDO would be looking at CFIs’ passing percentages, and any CFI that did have a poor record could very well expect a call. I don’t have any problem with that.

  8. I’m disappointed that the NTSB of all places would recommend that the FAA keep a closer eye on CFIs, as if they aren’t already overly scrutinized. There doesn’t seem to be any checks in place for a rogue FSDO examiner making things difficult for the local DPEs, as has been happening in my local area. Anyone taking a checkride when this person shows up is guaranteed to fail. Maybe what the FAA should do instead is look at each region and compare their pass/fail rate to the national average and non-punitively investigate what’s going on, and if any shenanigans are going on (like an unusual number of checkride failures when a FSDO rep is on board) or it can all be traced to one individual, maybe then it’s worth getting out the book.

  9. Sounds like the FAA already has the pass/fail rate data, but they can’t convert their data into something useful. Wouldn’t we all want to know if a CFI has a 75% fail rate? This isn’t a CFI problem. Just as 9/11 wasn’t a CFI problem. CFI’s raised multiple red flags about the suspicious pilots, and were ignored, but later, CFI’s were treated like they had done something wrong (IMO). Same situation here.