Tom Gets His ATP (Part 3): ‘Tight Tolerances’

It’s time to prepare for the flight test. You’re nearing your goal of earning your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. You’ve amassed the required flight experience (see Part I) and successfully completed the ATP written test (Part II). Now…

Hopefully, you’ve been flying with precision and practicing the use of airplane performance data and checklists while you built up your 1500 hours. If these things are a natural part of your everyday flying, you’re far ahead of the game. If you’ve been lax or unprofessional up to this point, though, it’ll take you a lot more time (read: money) to prepare for an FAA Inspector or Designated Examiner.

Think of the ATP checkride as your Commercial test … with tighter tolerances. In fact, when I took the flight test, my examiner described it as “the multiengine commercial all under the hood.” It helps a lot to be thoroughly familiar with the specific make and model of airplane in which you’ll take the test. In my case, I went well out of my way to practice and take the checkride in a Beech Baron, because that’s the type of light twin I have the most experience in.

WHAT TO EXPECT: The Practical Test Standards (PTS) tell you to expect…

  • Knowledge of the design, operation and limitations of the systems of the airplane in which you’ll take the test;
  • Preflight inspection, start-up, taxi and before-takeoff items, with an emphasis on checklist use;
  • Normal, crosswind and “low visibility” takeoffs, with speeds plus or minus (+/-) 5-knots from “book” for rotation and climb, and headings +/- 5-degrees on climbout;
  • Rejected takeoffs, including (but not limited to) engine failures during takeoff; and
  • Instrument departures, +/- 10 knots, +/- 10 degrees heading, and +/- 100 feet altitude on level segments of the departure.


  • Steep turns, bank angle 45 degrees +/- 5 degrees, altitude +/- 100 feet, airspeed +/-10 knots from a designated speed, and rollout (at the end of each 360-degree turn to the left and right) +/- 10 degrees from the initial heading;
  • Approaches to stalls (recovery at the first indication, be it a stall buffet or the stall warning horn) in the clean, takeoff, and landing configurations, in level flight and in turns;
  • Powerplant failures, including actual engine securing and a restart in multiengine airplanes; and
  • Any specific items identified by the FAA as “special flight characteristics” for the type of airplane you fly.

ALSO expect to be tested on:

  • Instrument arrival procedures and holds, with tolerances of +/- 100 feet altitude, +/- 10 degrees heading, and +/- 10 knots of desired airspeed;
  • Precision approaches, including autopilot coupled, “hand flown,” and single-engine approaches to decision height at +/- 5 knots of reference airspeed and no more than one-quarter scale deflection of the localizer and glideslope indicators ;
  • Non-precision approaches, including an NDB and at least one other type of approach and including at least one procedure turn, at airspeed +5 knots of reference speed, altitude +50 feet/-0 feet from the published step-down and minimum descent altitudes, and no more than one-quarter scale deflection of the course indicator, or bearing +5 degrees in the case of an ADF or RMI-indicated approach;
  • Circling approaches, with altitudes +50/-0 feet, heading /track +5 degrees and airspeed +10 knots from reference speed, with no more than a 30-degree bank angle during turns; and
  • Missed approaches, including at least one with one engine simulated inoperative, +/- 100 feet, +/- 5 knots, and +/- 5 degrees heading.

Wait, There’s More:

  • Normal and crosswind landings, including landings from precision and circling approaches, and with a simulated engine failure, all at reference speed +5 knots;
  • No-flap landings at a properly adjusted reference speed;
  • Rejected landings from within 50 feet of touchdown, with climbout at reference speed +5 knots; and
  • After landing checks, shutdown, and airplane securing, with emphasis on safety and checklist use.

Remember: Any system failure or emergency may be simulated at any point in the checkride, which you’ll need to deal with while maintaining the precise tolerances for the phase of flight where the emergency occurs. Nothing is “off limits” during the ATP flight test; anything is “fair game.”

NOTES: There are slight variations on the Areas of Operation if you’re taking the ATP “ride” in a single-engine or amphibious airplane. Helicopter operators have a completely different set of ATP Practical Test Standards … and the ATP standards apply for pilots seeking a “type rating” in airplanes that require the endorsement, whether or not they’re seeking the ATP certificate.

If you can consistently fly your airplane through the required maneuvers within prescribed tolerances, congratulations! You’re ready for the ATP checkride…