Britain’s leading flight schools have failed to convince the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that they should introduce quality assurance measures in the wake of another European exams fiasco. In an urgently organised conference call on the 25th February representatives of the flight schools argued with CAA officials that the Authority should set up procedures to prevent a repeat of the circumstances in early February when a very high proportion of candidates failed the Airline Transport Licence (ATPL) exams. It emerged that this event had coincided with the CAA introducing a large number of new questions from the European Central Question Bank. In the hour long conference call the schools pointed out that the Learning Objectives which define the exams were so loose that questions in almost any depth could be asked and they lobbied the CAA to publish the Learning Objectives and to introduce new questions slowly so as not to disadvantage the candidates. They also asked the CAA to recognise that very high fail rate indicated a defective exam which required remedial action.
The CAA’s Exams Board Chairman, David McCorquodale, rejected the flight schools’ proposals, saying “I am not convinced there has been any wrongdoing” and “I am not willing either to give [the candidates] free resits or [to] strike out their exam results”. Another CAA representative said the content of the new exams was covered by the Learning Objectives, and therefore acceptable.
Alex Whittingham, Managing Director of Bristol Groundschool, said “It’s very disappointing. This was an opportunity for the CAA to take ownership of the quality issue dumped on them by Europe and to accept they have a responsibility to deliver properly controlled and fair exams. I’m afraid they flunked it. The CAA say candidates should prepare themselves for the exams from the Learning Objectives but both the CAA and the European Authorities adamantly refuse to publish the very same Objectives.”
Whittingham continued “I can think of no other profession where exams are set without a published syllabus. We are already adapting to the new exams and pass rates are coming back up, but that doesn’t change the fundamental unfairness experienced by candidates in early February. The CAA tell us this is likely to happen repeatedly as more and more new questions are introduced from Europe.”
Notes to Editors:
- The Learning Objectives (LOs) provide a detailed syllabus that the exams are written to. The Learning Objectives that the exams are produced to were produced by the Joint Aviation Authority (JAA), now defunct. Questions for the ATPL exams are now produced by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the replacement for the JAA, in the form of a European Central Question Bank.
- Neither EASA nor the CAA will publish the LOs that the current exams are written to, citing copyright concerns. The JAA used to publish their LOs, but stopped doing so after the handover to EASA. Existing LOs are not publicly available, but see note 6.
- Responsibility for delivering the exams using questions drawn from the European Central Question Bank (of which the current one is ECB03) rests with a designated ‘Competent Authority’ in each European state, in the UK this is the Civil Aviation Authority.
- There are 14 exams for the ATPL for aeroplanes (A) and 14 for the helicopter equivalent (H). Some are common. The exams with the high fail rate in early February were for the two subjects Operational Procedures (A) and (H).
- In the UK candidates pay the CAA £68 for each exam taken, a total of £952 assuming no resits.
- Bristol Groundschool has, since the exams, published an unofficial version of what it believes to be the current Learning Objectives at https://www.bristol.gs/learning-objectives/ . The CAA and EASA still refuse to publish them.
- The conference call was attended by officials from EASA and the UK CAA, and representatives from CTC, Bristows, CAE, CATS, Bristol Groundschool, Naples Air Center and Caledonian Advanced Pilot Training.