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Checkride 101: Checkride professionalism

Setting the stage for success

Imagine, if you will, a courtroom scene. The gallery is filled with people. The judge sits front and center, gavel in hand.

There are two attorneys. The prosecuting lawyer looks like he just rolled out of bed. His hair is a mess. His shirt is wrinkled, no tie. Before asking a question, he fumbles through a jumbled stack of papers, finding it hard to string together a cohesive sentence, using slang and curse words on occasion. Contrast that image (of the worst lawyer ever) with the defense attorney. He is a true professional, arriving early, dressed in a three-piece suit. His argument is clear and concise, his paperwork organized. Who do you think wins the case? No matter how guilty the defendant may be, the jury is going to have a hard time seeing the evidence though all the other distractions.

Think of your checkride day like that courtroom. Are you, as the applicant, going to show up prepared and professional or are you going to make the evaluator search for evidence that you are a competent pilot? Guys and gals, the examiner is only human. While those FAA standards may be black and white, a lack of professionalism by the applicant can make things look pretty gray before you ever answer the first question. If you want to get started on the right foot, here are some easy ways to make a great first impression:

Remember, all of your communication says something about you. Texting the examiner at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night to ask for a checkride date is unprofessional. These things should be done during business hours. Also, if you make an appointment, do your best to honor it. Last minute cancellations show a lack of respect. Examiners understand certain things are out of your control, but being prepared for a date to which you agreed should not be one of them.

While those FAA standards may be black and white, a lack of professionalism by the applicant can make things look pretty gray before you ever answer the first question.

Be early. My husband’s high school basketball coach used to say, “If you’re early, you’re on time. And if you’re on time, you’re late.” I cannot stress punctuality enough for the big day. If your appointment is for 9 a.m., arrive by 8:30. This will also give you time to relax and clear your head. The last thing you want is to be scrambling into the room when the examiner is already there waiting for you.

Look the part. I’m not saying wear that three-piece suit, but you do want to be dressed in business casual to convey the impression that you take this day seriously. However, make sure the clothes and especially the shoes are comfortable. Nobody expects slacks and a tie when it’s 125 degrees in the cockpit, but a golf polo and khaki shorts would be reasonable.

Have your paperwork and logbook in order. I’ve had applicants who show up missing knowledge tests, photo IDs, and the checkride fee. It is painful for us both to watch the frantic scramble through their bag to find the missing item—or, worse, having to call someone from home to bring it to them. Do yourself a favor and make a folder that has every document and item you will need to show the examiner during the paperwork phase. The Airman Certification Standards (ACS) has a helpful document in the appendices titled Practical Test Checklist. Use it to make sure you have everything you need to help your day run smoothly.

Use good manners. When we’re stressed, we tend not to be our best selves, but by all means, remember basic manners when dealing with your evaluator. For example, watch your language; no cussing. Don’t badmouth your CFI. Put your phone on silent.

These are simple things, but they will go a long way toward creating a good rapport between you and the person who hopefully will issue you that brand-new pilot certificate.

Natalie Bingham Hoover is an FAA-designated pilot examiner and chief flight instructor of a busy flight school near Memphis, Tennessee.


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