What to do When you Fail your ATP Checkride

Airline Pilots in Cockpit #2For any pilot, having a less-than-stellar checkride performance is never a fun experience. That’s especially true for professional pilots or future airline hopefuls. While busting any checkride causes concern for career-bound aviators, failing the ATP ride is often viewed as the granddaddy of black marks. Yet it happens. If you’re handed an orange slip rather than a white temporary certificate, take heart in knowing that all is not lost.

The Devil is in the Details

On ATP checkrides, it’s rare that someone goes out and bombs the stick-and-rudder part of the ride. Instead, on the ATP ride, many applicants bust for overlooking the seemingly small regulations and operating procedures. As an example, one of my coworkers failed his ride because he performed a reduced power takeoff with the engine anti-ice turned on. Although the flight was never in any real danger, our company Operations Specifications (Ops Specs) require the use of max available power any time the anti-ice is used during takeoff. He wasn’t busted for poor piloting, but for violating a company procedure. As I’m sure you’re aware, any violation on a checkride is grounds for failure.

A Look at Some Numbers

My above-mentioned coworker’s checkride performance was hardly unique. At my regional, approximately 50% of upgrading pilots failed their ATP/type rides on the first attempt. However, it was nearly unheard of that anyone failed on the second try. Despite their high expectations, the airlines recognize that we’re all human and will occasionally perform less than perfectly. That’s why my company allowed one mulligan during the course of training. One failure from time to time isn’t unforgivable, so remember that if your own performance needs some improvement.

Conditions of the Ride

Another thing you should consider is the condition under which you performed your checkride. If you’re like many regional pilots, you might perform your ATP ride during your upgrade/type rating checkride for your company. Under such conditions, you’re guaranteed to be under a great deal of scrutiny and a fair amount of pressure. In addition, the ride isn’t likely to be described as easy. Slipping up under these conditions is bound to happen from time to time.

Now consider a commercial, buy-your-rating organization that specializes in cranking out a high volume of ATP certificates. Though I’ve never been to or worked at such a place, I have an idea that one of their priorities is customer satisfaction. As such, I’m willing to bet their version of the ATP ride is a bit less strenuous than the airline version. I’ll even go out on a limb and wager such business checkrides consist of the bare minimum to meet FAA requirements. Comparing the two, are you necessarily less of a pilot for failing an airline-style ATP ride than someone who passes a for-profit training company’s checkride? I don’t think so. My guess is airline interviewers don’t either.

It’s All Relative

Going a bit further, let’s look at the ATP checkride versus, say, a private pilot checkride. On one hand, you’re subject to strictly VFR conditions, fairly simple maneuvers, and a relatively basic level of knowledge. With the other, you’ll be doing most of the flying under low IFR conditions, at night, while dealing with a planeload of frightened passengers and a laundry list of equipment failures. Which one do you think presents more opportunities to slip up?

As the highest level of pilot certification, the ATP is designed to put you through the wringer. With such high standards and so little margin of error, it’s understandable that good pilots occasionally miss the mark. Additionally, if you’re taking your ATP ride at the Part 121 level, you’re still a relative rookie. The airlines know that as time goes on, you’ll accumulate a wealth of experience that will help make you a safe employee. If you happen to bust the ATP checkride, take heart in knowing it doesn’t have to be a career ender.

Honesty is the Only Policy

If you hope to succeed in this industry, it’s imperative you be forthcoming with any checkride failures. The FAA has your performance records on file, and you can rest assured any Part 121 company WILL have seen them. While there’s a possibility that Part 91 employers or small charter companies won’t conduct as in-depth a background check, you’re still much better off if you fess up from the start. Occasionally screwing up a checkride is one thing, being branded a liar is much harder to overcome.

Tip: If you busted your ride while employed at a Part 121 carrier, make sure you secure copies of your training records. These can be a big help down the road. While a potential future employer might know you busted your ride, they don’t always know the specifics behind the failure. Being able to present evidence that you failed for a minor oversight will probably help to convince them you’re not a danger in the sky.

Like many things in life, a large part of your career success depends on how you deal with failure.  Rather than focusing on the negative, look at the steps you can take to overcome the occasional obstacle. A single checkride failure along the way will only hurt your career if you let it. Instead, develop a game plan to address the issue. Remember, a good pilot is always learning.

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