One of the biggest single factors that can make the difference between a positive, efficient recurrent training experience, versus one that merely “checks the boxes” at a cost of high stress and minimal learning, is if the required pilot in command proficiency check (PPC) is done as a progressive check (good), or as a standalone check on the last day of training (not so good).
Here’s what FAA says about progressive checks. On December 19, 2016, they published notice N8900.396, “Progressive Checking for Pilot in Command Proficiency Checks Under 61.58.” It states:
Progressive checking is the practice whereby an applicant is trained on a task or a set of tasks, and then after having been trained is subsequently checked on those tasks. After this checking phase, further training is conducted on additional task(s) and then those task(s) are checked. This process continues until all tasks have been trained and subsequently checked.
In other words, the PPC does not need to be completed all at once, in one session, but can be spread out among several simulator sessions, and woven in with training (practice). This is ideal for two reasons: time isn’t wasted revisiting items that were performed fine during an early session, and the stress of a single session with air work, four instrument approaches and one visual pattern is avoided. Anyone who has done a standalone PPC will attest that it is a fatiguing, fast-paced session as there are numerous required tasks to accomplish in only two hours.
There are some important limitations to be aware of with regard to progressive checking. First, let’s look at what is said regarding an unsuccessful maneuver during a “checking” attempt:
Training to proficiency may be accomplished when an applicant fails to perform to the required standards during the checking event. In such a case, the check may be suspended while the applicant is retrained, after which the proficiency check may be resumed and the task can then be reevaluated.
Checking may only be halted twice to provide additional training during the entire training program. An individual task which is failed can only be retrained one time. After either of these thresholds has been reached, the check is considered unsatisfactory and the applicant must complete all training and complete a new, standalone proficiency check.
Simply meaning you can retry any unsuccessful task once after practicing it a bit more. If that task isn’t done satisfactorily the second time, or if any three tasks are failed, a stand-alone PPC will be required on the last day.
An even more important caveat exists:
All checking must be conducted by a Training Center Evaluator (TCE). Checking is not authorized to be conducted by instructors.
TCEs are the simulator equivalent of a designated pilot examiner (DPE); they have been specially trained and tested to hold the authority to issue certificates (e.g. ATP), type ratings, and certify PPCs as complete. Since only a TCE can conduct any portion of checking, and we want to conduct a small amount of checking during each session, it is critical we request a TCE for every session. This can take some time to coordinate, and perhaps some arm twisting, but it should be possible with a bit of lead time.
Step II: Get Good Instruction
Having a TCE conduct a progressive PPC across three days won’t make for a good experience if the TCE is a terrible instructor. It’s an unavoidable truth that the best sim center is only as good as the instructor with whom you are interfacing. At every one of the Part 142 schools, you will find a range of instructor quality, both in terms of depth of knowledge and in instructional talent/personality.
If you have had a positive experience with an instructor, request them again. Yes, there is something to be said for learning from multiple teachers, but more can be learned from one excellent instructor than from a dozen mediocre ones, so if you find a jewel in the rough, don’t be afraid to stick with them.
Also, understand that some sim instructors, sometimes even the good ones, don’t naturally “think outside of the box.” If attending your first sim-based recurrent training, or the first one after several years of in-aircraft recurrent checks, consider having an experienced instructor accompany you through the training. Some schools will offer your instructor a discounted, or even free, recurrent course if they attend with you, and paying to have an experienced (and good) instructor sit in the right seat with you during your sim sessions can be invaluable.
An experienced in-aircraft instructor often will be quicker to diagnose what you could do to improve a task, rather than simply “repeat it until it’s passable,” often the sim instructor’s go-to. They can also spend extended time after the session in a debrief with you, perhaps practicing chair flying of a rough maneuver, or reviewing an avionics or instrument procedure finer point you are having trouble grasping.
Step III: Advocate for Yourself
This really is step zero. Getting a progressive check, a TCE, a good instructor will all require advocating for yourself, and not passively allowing the training to fall as it will. The advocating doesn’t stop with the start of training, though. For a top-notch recurrent experience, you must be prepared to keep up the advocating each and every day of training.
A key way to do this is to come prepared to use every minute of sim time you’ve paid for. It costs more to rent most sims than it does to fly the airplane for the same amount of time, so don’t let any of that expensive box time to go to waste. If you finish all the required tasks 15 minutes early, don’t just take a long coffee break, but ask to use the time to work on something.
What to work on? That’s another job you have before you show up for day one. Prepare a list of things you’d like to do in the sim such as difficult approaches, challenging weather conditions, landings, etc. Have a list ahead of time, maybe even have the approach plates printed or bookmarked, and it will be easy to extract the most value from the sim time you’ve bought.
Understand the difference between flying that can “count” for the purposes of required training and checking and that which can’t. But don’t be afraid of asking for the latter. For example, the FAA has only certified a small handful of airports as having the visual characteristics needed to perform a circling approach. Any circling approach that will be conducted as part of an approved syllabus or the PPC must be performed at one of these airports. However, if you perform a certain circling approach regularly, there’s no reason it can’t be done during any extra time left over once the required items are completed.
Finally, if despite careful up-front planning and strong advocating during your course, you’re still not getting what you need out of the training, don’t give up. Meet with both the program manager (in charge of the type you’re training in) and the facility manager (in charge of the entire training center) and lay out the issues you’re having, and what you need to get better training.
This article first appeared in the most recent edition of Citation Jet Pilots Association’s safety publication Right Seat. While originally written for Citation owner-pilots, the article contains valuable information for owner-pilots of any business jet aircraft. We thank CJP and Neil Singer for allowing us to republish it for the T & T readers.