Why you should participate in the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System

The NASA ASRS is a voluntary, confidential, non-punitive, safety reporting system that receives safety reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, ground personnel, maintenance technicians, and even UAS operators.

ASRS reporting is confidential. All reports are de-identified by NASA Aviation Safety Analysts so that the identity of the reporter and the identity of their affiliated organization, such as an educational institution, are not revealed. In exchange for a reporter’s voluntary safety report, the FAA provides important protections against civil penalty and certificate suspension. You can read about these protections on the NASA ASR Immunity Policies page and in FAA Advisory Circular AC 00-46F.

ASRS reports contribute to the critical fields of aviation safety and human factors research. The publicly available ASRS Database Online (DBOL) can be searched for lessons-learned and training purposes and to support research about operations, systems failures, human factors, and more. You can also subscribe to the free monthly newsletter “CALLBACK” at https://lp.constantcontactpages.com/su/n7xieMi/callback.

For more information, including:

  • program brief
  • overview video
  • access to database
  • reporting forms


Pilot certificates are not participation trophies

Every generation seems to think the next generation doesn’t work as hard, isn’t as talented, or doesn’t have the same motivation that their generation did when they were younger. I don’t think that has been any different in aviation training historically.

There are certainly things that younger pilots know and do better than generations before. There are probably skills and knowledge that older generations of pilots had or developed that new generations don’t, or don’t even need. But one thing that I can say is that from a metrics standpoint, it certainly seems that we are headed the wrong way in pilot skill and knowledge right now.

A statistic was recently shared with us that indicates that in the past approximately 6-months, it appears first-time pass rates on private pilot airplane single-engine land practical tests are hovering somewhere in the 50-60% range.

Take this to heart, please. It means that nearly half of our pilot applicants are failing their first attempts at a private pilot certificate.

This is bad. I don’t know how to say it any other way.

I am not going to say that it is entirely the fault of the students. It isn’t just that somehow the younger generation sucks or that they aren’t capable. I am also not saying that no training providers care. There are some very dedicated and professional leaders at many training programs working hard to counteract these trends. But they are fighting an uphill battle.

I hold us as an entire industry responsible. We need to hold the standards for our training and not send them to attempt practical tests until they are truly ready.

Some factors have come together in our industry that have resulted in VERY active hiring, high turnover of CFIs at flight training providers, and a lack of selective hiring when we “need to fill jobs with a warm body that can at least do the job” even if they aren’t candidates that really meet our highest of expectations. This has resulted in what I affectionately refer to as “warm body hiring.”

I have no doubt that the current trend is having a negative impact currently and will continue to do so in the future. One example is that if we look at reduced pass rates, we need more retests. In 2021 we did a little over 21,000 private pilot certificates in this country. If half of these fail on the first attempt, we need 11,000 more retests. This takes valuable DPE resources away from testing applicants who might actually be prepared and pass on the first try. This is but one administrative complication of what is happening. It says nothing about the potential that comes from a lack of base skill development for safety in the long run in our aviation industry.

As a DPE, I can’t help but feel like too many flight training operations have transitioned from a process of “training to meet and/or exceed a standard and happen to meet experience requirements along the way,” to a “train to meet experience requirements, and hope they happen to meet training standards.” This is a subtle difference in language, but it is a significant difference in the fundamental approach to training.

Talking with many DPEs around the country, the sentiment seems to be that many times instructors are “throwing a student at a practical test and hoping they will pass.” The logic is if they don’t, they can just retrain a few items and get them the certificate anyway. For so many reasons this seems to be the wrong thing to do in my mind.

There is a significant pull being felt from the airline environment on the CFIs to “get their time as fast as possible” so they can come work for them. This is creating an ethos in the CFI cadre who is providing the bulk of the training in this country that getting hours is more important than providing the students best training service. As those students become CFIs anxious to get to the airlines, the cycle will continue. Most of us who are actively engaged with daily training operations have seen this. We feel it. We are concerned.

Pushing lots of pilots through our training systems to meet airline hiring needs can be great as long as it is done without degrading safety and with a focus on true learning. Cutting corners or rushing people through who aren’t really ready doesn’t help us all in the long run.

Getting a pilot certificate or rating comes with a great deal of responsibility. It isn’t just a “test until you happen to get it right and pass” learning experience. We need our pilots to have built base skills, knowledge, and risk management awareness. Our system depends on these base skills being built in a way that they will support future learning and service in the aviation transportation industry.

Learning to be a pilot and then building the additional skills and experience to become a professional pilot isn’t something that is just a checkbox. It shouldn’t be something that you just get if you have spent enough on training or “happened to fly all the required experience events.”  We need our pilots to really meet and exceed the standards in full that the FAA and the aviation industry have set forth and collaborated on for each and every certificate and rating level along the way.

To put it bluntly, pilot certificates and ratings aren’t participation trophies.

How to read an instrument approach chart (video tip)

Instrument approaches are designed to guide pilots to the runway in IFR conditions when the visibility and/or ceilings are low. In this video, we’ll review the different types of instrument approaches and the information you’ll find in each section of an instrument approach chart.

Check out Sporty’s 2023 Instrument Rating Course for everything you need to know to prepare for your instrument training and pass the Instrument knowledge test.

Wake turbulence avoidance

If you are like most students in the country, you are likely training at a smaller, pilot controlled (non-towered) airport. There are many benefits to training at these smaller airports such as reduced large aircraft traffic, but this benefit can also be a drawback when you consider the lack of wake turbulence avoidance practice.

When pilots think about wake turbulence avoidance procedures, they tend to focus on very large jet aircraft like a fully loaded 747 or large Airbus; however, when you are flying a Cessna 172 or Cherokee, “large” aircraft come in many sizes smaller than a 747.  Those larger aircraft still represent an issue to smaller training aircraft like the ones you are flying.  As a result, it is important to practice wake turbulence procedures anytime you are landing or taking off after a larger aircraft than what you’re flying.

Wake Turbulence Avoidance Procedures

While en route or flying near a large airplane in the terminal environment, avoid flying under the flight path as the wake vortices will sink below the flight path at a rate of 400-500 FPM:

Taking off behind a large airplane – rotate prior to the point at which the preceding aircraft rotated and make a turn into the wind if possible:

Landing behind a larger airplane – approach the runway above the preceding airplane’s path and touch down aft of the point where the other airplane’s wheels contacted the runway:

Landing behind a departing airplane –  touch down before the point where the other airplane lifted off:

Taking off or landing on an intersecting runway – plan to lift off or touchdown before the intersection of the departing plane rotates before the intersection:

Helicopter vortices should be avoided due to possible strong wake turbulence. Avoid flying closer than three diameters of a helicopter’s rotors when the helicopter is hovering.

If you are not following a larger aircraft, you can still practice these procedures to stay proficient when landing or taking off after another Cessna 172.  By staying proficient with wake turbulence avoidance, the next time you fly to a Class D or Class C airport and follow a Gulfstream or Airbus on takeoff/landing, you can feel confident that you will be taking the right steps to stay safe.


Learn more from Sporty’s 2023 Learn to Fly Course – Video Training and Test Prep:

collision avoidance quiz

Webinar video: 20 questions to test your aviation knowledge

How much do you know about weather, airspace, aerodynamics, and flight planning? You’ll find out in this popular webinar format. The pilots at Sporty’s will present 20 questions on a variety of topics, let you answer on screen, then explain the correct answer and discuss the implications. A little competition is always fun, but we’ll also share plenty of valuable tips for safer flying. It’s a great way to review important topics and learn some interesting trivia too. Hosted by Sporty’s President, John Zimmerman.



Airspace operations at Class C and D airports (video tip)

Class C and D airspace will surround airports that can handle a moderate amount of air traffic. This means there are some important restrictions to remember any time you’re operating within – or underneath this airspace. In this week’s video tip, we review how Class C and D airspace works, what you need to do to fly legally in it and how to stay safe.

Learn more from Sporty’s 2023 Learn to Fly Course – Video Training and Test Prep