The major sources of flight training in the United States include FAA-approved pilot schools and training centers, non-certificated (14 CFR part 61) flying schools, and independent flight instructors. FAA-approved schools are those flight schools certificated by the FAA as pilot schools under 14 CFR part 141. [Figure 1]

FAA Form 8000-4, Air Agency Certificate
Figure 1. FAA Form 8000-4, Air Agency Certificate

Application for part 141 certification is voluntary, and the school needs to meet specific requirements for personnel, equipment, maintenance, and facilities. The school operates each course offering in accordance with an established curriculum that includes a training course outline (TCO) approved by the FAA. Each TCO contains enrollment prerequisites, a detailed description of each lesson including standards and objectives, expected accomplishments and standards for each stage of training, and a description of the checks and tests used to measure each training course enrollee’s accomplishments. An FAA-approved pilot school Air Agency certificate expires and needs to be renewed every 2 years.

Renewal is contingent upon proof of continued high quality instruction and a minimum level of instructional activity. Training at an FAA-certificated pilot school is structured and because of this structured environment, the graduates of these pilot schools are allowed to meet the certification experience requirements of 14 CFR part 61 with less flight time. Many FAA-certificated pilot schools have DPEs on staff to administer FAA practical tests.

Some schools have been granted examining authority by the FAA. A school with examining authority for a particular course(s) has the authority to recommend its graduates for pilot certificates or ratings without further testing by the FAA. A list of FAA-certificated pilot schools and their training courses can be found at training centers are certificated under 14 CFR part 142. Training centers, like certificated pilot schools, operate in a structured environment with approved courses and curricula and stringent standards for personnel, equipment, facilities, operating procedures, and record keeping. Training centers certificated under 14 CFR part 142, however, specialize in the use of flight simulation (full flight simulators and flight training devices) in their training courses.

There are a number of flying schools in the United States that are not certificated by the FAA. These schools operate under the provisions of 14 CFR part 61. Many of these non-certificated flying schools offer excellent training and meet or exceed the standards required of FAA-approved pilot schools. Flight instructors employed by non-certificated flying schools, as well as independent flight instructors, meet the same basic 14 CFR part 61 flight instructor requirements for certification and renewal as those flight instructors employed by FAA-certificated pilot schools. In the end, any training program is dependent upon the quality of the ground and flight instruction a learner receives.

Airman Certification Standards (ACS) and Practical Test Standards (PTS)

Practical tests for FAA pilot certificates and associated ratings are administered by FAA inspectors and DPEs using FAA Airman Certification Standards (ACS) and Practical Test Standards (PTS), which contain structured areas of operation, tasks, and standards. [Figure 2] 14 CFR part 61, section 61.43 specifies that the practical test consists of the tasks specified in the areas of operation for the airman certificate or rating sought. To pass the test, the applicant demonstrates mastery of the aircraft performing each task successfully, proficiency and competency within the approved standards, and sound judgment.

Airman Certification Standards (ACS) developed by FAA
Figure 2. Airman Certification Standards (ACS) developed by FAA

It should be emphasized that the ACS and PTS are testing documents rather than teaching documents. Although the pilot applicant should be familiar with these books and refer to the standards they contain during training, the ACS and PTS are not intended to be used as a training syllabus. They contain the standards to which maneuvers/procedures on FAA practical tests should be performed and the FAA policies governing the administration of practical tests. An appropriately rated flight instructor is responsible for training a pilot applicant to acceptable standards in all subject matter areas, procedures, and maneuvers included in, and encompassed by, the tasks within each area of operation in the appropriate ACS and PTS.

Flight instructors and pilot applicants should always remember that safe, competent piloting requires a commitment to learning, planning, and risk management that goes beyond rote performance of maneuvers. Descriptions of tasks and information on how to perform maneuvers and procedures are contained in reference and teaching documents, such as this site. A list of reference documents is contained in the appendices of each ACS and PTS. It is necessary that the latest version of the PTS and ACS, with all recent changes, be referenced for training. All recent versions and changes to the FAA ACS and PTS may be viewed or downloaded at