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Failed Checkride - Here's What To Do Next

By Bo Corby, FAPA’s Director of Flight Training Standards
June 21, 2019

Failing a checkride is a traumatic event for any pilot.

It comes with all of the pre-check anxieties, plus new emotions like disbelief, denial and anger. Perhaps the worst is the feeling “What are my friends and colleagues going to think?"

Finding success means coping with this stew of emotions, a challenging but necessary part of recovery prior to re-entering a remedial training program.

Often, one must forcibly put their head in the right place. This involves making an honest assessment of why the failure occurred. Pick apart the performance, learn the correct process or procedure and perfect the performance.

What if you don’t understand why your performance degraded?

Many times, a pilot suffers a failure without really understanding why their performance was lacking on that particular day, especially when they have successfully performed the maneuver in training multiple times.

It can be a mystery to the student and sometimes to the instructor as well.

One explanation is rooted in the concept of skill pathogens, an extension of the biological term that describes how a flawed understanding of a concept can infect overall performance.

These pathogens lurk on the periphery of a pilot's skill set and are triggered only under certain conditions.

For example, if a person’s instrument scan technique is inefficient and the autopilot disconnects, the increased workload can cause erratic aircraft control. That in turn leads to more pressure, uncertainty and ultimately degraded performance.

In the case where memory items for an emergency descent are weak, an unplanned rapid depressurization can startle the pilot to inaction. The maneuver becomes unsatisfactory by hesitating to don the oxygen mask and initiate the rapid descent procedure.

It's very important to understand why a checkride failed. The trouble is, you don’t know what you don’t know.

These issues will only become evident through training and exposure to the flying environment under the mentorship of an experienced pilot.

Look for the root cause of the failure. Was it skill or knowledge?

Once you've made the identification, seek the best source for corrective actions, even if it's outside of your current training environment.

If it’s a skill deficiency, seek out the best place to fix the problem because if you don’t, it will surely rise again.

If it’s a knowledge deficiency, study the deficient areas, and ask your instructors lots of questions.

Getting over Checkitis

Check-itis is simply a phobia, an anxiety disorder causing excessive and irrational fear of a situation.

The key here is excessive anxiety . All pilots experience some anxiety during a checkride scenario however you can power through the event by being confident in the preparation.

Some anxiety is good, it keeps us on our toes.

The only way to guarantee you won’t fail a checkride is to not take it! Even the best pilots can fail a checkride for something as simple as just having a bad day.

There is no guarantee and once you understand that, focus on the preparation. Most all airlines or corporate operators do not want to lose their investment in you as a pilot. Not only are replacements hard to find, they are expensive for the company to train.

Understand that examiners realize the pressure a pilot is under during a proficiency check or rating ride and they will work the scenario to control that pressure in measured amounts. This is a way of ensuring they themselves did not cause a failure by unfair conduct of the checkride.

Beware the crutch

A crutch is a replacement for understanding and skill.

For example, if an instructor suggests using a certain power setting on an ILS approach, and you need to do that to complete an acceptable performance, it's only saying you have a skill deficiency by not being able to fly the approach without looking at power indications.

There is no shortcut to full understanding of a procedure, maneuver or how a system functions.

This is particularly true with the avionics. Push button flying is a crutch, brought about by skill or knowledge deficiencies recognized in past accidents and incidents.

Avionics are designed by engineers to engineer out pilot performance deficiencies, but are themselves targets of failure by a pilot not understanding how they operate.

There are two basic elements to electronic flying: "Push and Verify. The second is too often omitted, especially in a checkride situation where the pressure is on to perform.

“Push and Verify.” I can’t say that enough.

Instructors

If you’ve failed a checkride, the instructor component becomes paramount.

If one is assigned and you have no apparent choice in the matter, assess their ability to help you quickly.

A good instructor should display empathy for your situation and ask enough questions to get at the root of your problem. If they simply want to keep doing the maneuver you failed over and over without explaining to you what you did wrong, request an instructor change immediately.

It’s your career and you must oversee your future.

There are great instructors in any organization, so seek them out and enlist their help. If there is still no relief, go outside of the organization to find someone who understands your situation and can help.

Summary

In the end, it's all about keeping your head straight and mental preparation. Expect some anxiety, even the best pilots have some. If you feel uncomfortable going into the checkride that you are sure of impending doom, cancel the event and get more training.

If that is not possible, buck up and compartmentalize the maneuvers into individual event units. As you complete more and more of them successfully, confidence begins to build.

If you failed a checkride, focus on the "why and how" to get corrective understanding and make that understanding the goal. Put your negative emotions on the back burner while you concentrate on this insight that is so essential in preparing for a successful retest.

We appreciate your ideas and input. Please email your comments or questions about this article to: support@fapa.aero.

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Meet the FAPA team

G.W. "Bo" Corby

Director of Flight Training Standards

G.W.

Captain Corby began his aviation career as a Flight Crew Instructor for the Boeing Company, followed by 3 years in the Middle East as a pilot/flight engineer for several airlines, returning to the U.S. in 1977 as a pilot for Hughes Airwest in San Mateo, California. Hughes Airwest later merged with Republic Airlines and eventually Northwest Airlines (NWA).  At NWA, he served as NWA ALPA Training Committee Chairman and in this position participated as one of 3 Board Members on the Pilot Training Review Board at NWA. This Board evaluated issues in the NWA training department relating to pilot training deficiencies. He retired from NWA in 2006.

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