Inside the ACS: Interview With FAA's Susan Parson5:01 PM
Airplanista Blog Editor
AIRPLANISTA: First, introduce yourself to my readers.
PARSON: I'm based at Leesburg Executive Airport (KJYO), Leesburg, VA and hold ATP (AMEL), Commercial (ASEL), CFI, CFI-I, MEI, AGI, IGI certificates. Airplanes regularly owned or flown include a C182K owned by my flying club, Blue Ridge Flyers and a C182T – Nav III, owned by Civil Air Patrol. For CAP, in a VA Wing Instructor, Check Pilot, Check Pilot Examiner and National Stan/Eval Officer, and have developed a number of training materials and courses for FAA and CAP.
PARSON: If there was a time before I loved flying, I don’t remember it. My first memory is an Eastern 727 trip when I was 3. I made pilot wings from cardboard, ”flew” the porch swing, and counted contrails. Being a pilot is key to how I define myself. I am not a natural, but the effort required for every certificate and rating has taught me what a privilege it is to touch the sky. I started by taking a private pilot ground school in early 1991, passed the private pilot practical test in July 1992, and started training right away for my instrument rating. I just kept going after that, and earned my ATP in November 2007.
AIRPLANISTA: Explain your professional relationship with FAA.
PARSON: I knew when I started flying that I really “should’ work for the FAA at some point in my career. I started that quest by getting an assignment in the State Department’s International Aviation Programs and Policy office, which started in August 1992. That job gave me a chance to meet and work with a broad range of FAA offices. They approached me about working in the General Aviation and Commercial Division and I started as a special assistant in AFS-800 in May 2004. My job there was one of those hard-to-define gigs, but I loved the variety, as well as the opportunity to write for what was then called the FAA Aviation News – now FAA Safety Briefing, which I have edited since 2008. The AFS-800 job also involved working with the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), a government/industry group formed to help improve GA safety. I found that we all shared a strong dissatisfaction with the quality of the FAA knowledge test. From my own experiences with the private pilot ground school course, I knew the test had problems. I was both baffled and outraged when my instructor presented certain topics (hello, fixed-card ADF!) with a disclaimer: “You’re never going to need this for flying, but you have to learn it because it’s on the written test.” Seriously?!
AIRPLANISTA: How did you become involved with the ACS development?
PARSON: The chance to do something about the knowledge test finally came in May 2011. The new manager of the FAA’s Regulatory Support Division (AFS-600), Van Kerns wanted to take a fresh look at the knowledge tests, and he asked if I could get a group of key stakeholders together to help. By that time, I had moved from AFS-800 to the Flight Standards Service director’s office, where I still work today. My boss knew there were problems with testing, and he was perfectly happy to let me run with the airman testing reform project.
AIRPLANISTA: Explain the timeline of the ACS development, when it started, and when you came on board to contribute.
PARSON: The process actually started in September 2011, with the first meeting of the “Airman Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee,” or ARC. We were not making or changing rules, because testing and training materials are created to support existing regulations, but the FAA uses the ARC structure as a legally-sanctioned and public way to get stakeholder expertise and recommendations. We recruited a diverse group of people and organizations, encompassing advocacy organizations, courseware providers, academics, manufacturers, and instructor groups.