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ALC-449: Airman Certification Standards (ACS)
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ACS Course Review

ACS Course Review

In June 2016, the FAA replaced the Practical Test Standards for the Private Pilot Airplane certificate and the Instrument-Airplane rating with the corresponding Airman Certification Standards, or ACS.

Revised versions of the ACS for the Private Pilot Airplane certificate and the Instrument Airplane rating, along with the first version of the ACS for the Commercial Pilot Airplane certificate, are in effect as of June 12, 2017.

The ACS, which reflects a great deal of input from industry experts, is an enhanced version of the PTS. It adds task-specific knowledge and risk management elements to each PTS Area of Operation/Task. The result is an integrated presentation of specific knowledge, risk management, and skill elements for each Task.

The ACS provides a single-source set of standards for both the knowledge exam and the practical test. The integrated format of the ACS format clearly tells applicants, instructors, and evaluators what an airman must KNOW, CONSIDER, and DO to pass the knowledge test and the practical test for an airman certificate or rating.

The ACS improves the presentation of important information by placing it into specific appendices. In the June 2017 versions, the FAA and industry partners have worked to better align appendix material across the ACS documents.

Just like the PTS, the ACS is divided into Areas of Operations, Tasks, and Elements.

In the ACS, a Task within an Area of Operation applies to all classes in the category unless the Task title includes a limitation. Otherwise, an evaluator must include each Task in the Plan of Action. It is acceptable to combine Tasks when it makes sense to do so, as long as each required element is evaluated. If the Task includes sub-elements, the evaluator may select an appropriate sub-element (e.g., weight & balance) to satisfy the requirement for at least one knowledge element.

The ACS assigns a unique code to each element of knowledge, risk management and skill. The characters in the code define the applicable ACS, Area of Operation, Task, and Task element. The ACS coding system provides the “thread” that links standards to guidance and test questions, and keeps them aligned in the future.

ACS codes will eventually replace the Learning Statement Codes now shown on the Airman Knowledge Test Report. Already, though, the team has used the ACS coding to help ensure that handbooks are aligned with the standards defined with the ACS. The FAA has used the ACS coding system to revise and align all private pilot airplane, commercial pilot airplane, and instrument-airplane rating knowledge test questions to the knowledge, skill, and risk management elements in the corresponding ACS.

That means that applicants, instructors, and evaluators can look up the Learning Statement Codes listed on the Airman Knowledge Test Report, and use the subject area to narrow the scope of material for retraining and retesting; and retrain and evaluate that material in the context of the appropriate Areas of Operation and Tasks.

The Plan of Action should combine Tasks and Task Elements to create an efficient, scenario-based test. The ACS should not make either the oral portion or the flight portion of the practical test any longer than it was with the PTS.

The June 2017 release includes the first version of ACS for Commercial Pilot – Airplane, which replaces the corresponding PTS. It also includes the first updates to the ACS for the Private Pilot Airplane certificate and the Instrument-Airplane Rating.

These updated versions incorporate corrections and changes suggested by stakeholders; streamline the presentation by consolidating certain task elements, and standardize the phrasing and sequence of certain task elements.

There are also modifications to Slow Flight and Stalls Area of Operation in Private and Commercial Airplane ACS.

The conceptual foundation for the FAA’s approach is the continuum of reducing aircraft speed and energy state of the aircraft. In this continuum:

·         Slow flight is part of normal flight operations, and includes the speeds a pilot might use in the approach and landing sequence.

·         Flight between the stall warning and the actual stall moves into abnormal flight operations. Part of stall prevention training is to respond to the warning and return to normal flight. The ACS does not test maneuvering flight in this area.

·         An unintentional stall constitutes emergency flight operations. Full stall and recovery training includes slowing/loading to the break in the stall through the full recovery. The testing standard for stall recovery is appropriately separate from the slow flight standard.

When we introduced the Private Pilot Airplane ACS in June 2016, the FAA revised the slow flight evaluation standard to reflect maneuvering without a stall warning.

In response to community feedback, the FAA reviewed the entire Slow Flight and Stalls Area of Operation and revised some of the slow flight and stall task evaluation standards in the private pilot-airplane and commercial pilot-airplane ACS.

The FAA also made changes to the Stall Task elements. To evaluate a pilot’s ability to recognize the airplane cues for an impending stall and a full stall, the FAA added a requirement for the applicant to acknowledge the initial indication of an impending stall. The applicant could meet this requirement by simply stating “stall warning” or “buffet.”  

In the Commercial Pilot Airplane ACS, the FAA maintained the requirement for stall recovery procedures to be executed at the first indication of an impending stall (e.g., buffet, stall horn, etc.) and modified the skill element to require the applicant to acknowledge the impending stall cues.

The FAA and its industry partners on the ACS Working Group are still developing Airman Certification Standards for the Airline Transport Pilot (airplane) and the Instructor (airplane) certificates. In 2016, we also started work on an ACS for the Aircraft Mechanic Certificate with Airframe and/or Powerplant ratings.

The FAA is also using the ACS approach to ensure that changes are systematically incorporated not just in test questions, but also in the standards, handbooks and other guidance material, and in public data on the FAA website.


The ACS team has created numerous resources to support use of the ACS. The FAA website’s Airman Testing web page is the go-to source for information.



The FAA also established the ACS Focus Team as the one-stop-shop for answering any questions not addressed on the Airman Testing web page. Please email the ACS Focus Team directly if you need help.