CAA faces pressure to introduce Quality Control for ATPL exams

A number of the UK’s leading flight schools have expressed frustration at the failure to convince the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that it needs to introduce quality assurance measures for its ATPL exams, in the wake of what the schools call “another European exams fiasco.”

In an “urgently-organised” conference call on Thursday 25 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, which saw 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 asserted that the Learning Objectives, which provide a detailed syllabus that the exams are written to, 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 stating, “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 says 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.”

The CAA has currently published no statement, but has been contacted by Pilot Career News for further comment.

Edited to add (7/03/16): A representative for the CAA explained that the original press release revealed details from what it understood to be a private meeting, and on that basis, will not be offering further comment.