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NTSB faults FAA’s monitoring of flight instructors

The NTSB spotlighted the FAA’s monitoring of flight instructors as it continued to investigate a June 21, 2019, crash in Mokuleia, Hawaii, of a Beechcraft King Air 65-A90 twin turboprop after takeoff on a parachute jump flight in which the pilot and all 10 passengers were killed.

In a January 7 news release, the NTSB said the 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 pilot’s difficulty meeting standards was not an isolated case, the NTSB said. In the two-year period that ended in April 2020, the pass rate of the flight instructor’s other students was 59 percent, which the safety agency contrasted with FAA data indicating a national-average pass rate of 80 percent.

Noting that the goal of flight instruction—as described in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook—is to ensure that the individual receiving instruction “has developed the necessary skills” for the privileges sought, the NTSB said the accident pilot had primarily logged King Air flight time while still a student pilot during extended commercial cross-countries “with passengers in the cabin.”

“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 said.

The safety recommendation asks the FAA to develop a system that would “automatically alert its inspectors of flight instructors whose student pass rates fall below 80 percent”—a component missing from the existing system of monitoring pass rates.

Until an automatic notification process of substandard pass rates is implemented, “FAA inspectors should review flight instructors’ pass rates on an ongoing basis to identify any in need of closer monitoring,” and provide additional surveillance as necessary, it said.

The recommendation comes against a backdrop of scrutiny of other components of pilot training and testing.

Designated pilot examiners (DPEs) administer most airman practical examinations, and at that level of the training and testing process, changes are also planned.

AOPA has been active in advocating for the FAA to improve examiner availability to conduct pilot testing and take steps to remedy the inadequate oversight of some individual examiners that has caused some pilots to receive requests to undergo reexamination.

In December, AOPA reported on the creation of a six-member AOPA Designated Pilot Examiner Advisory Board composed of highly experienced and respected DPEs to act as a resource for AOPA’s engagement and advocacy efforts with the FAA and industry stakeholders.

The new panel was scheduled to begin its strategic planning in January.

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