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ATC Exams: Guidance for Pilots


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If you're reading this, then there's a good chance that you're interested in flying to support an ATC practical exam in VATSIM UK. First of all, thank you for supporting our controllers by providing them with the crucial traffic required to show off their skills and obtain their next rating, it wouldn't be possible without you! The purpose of this post is to offer some guidance to you, the pilot, about what to expect when flying around an exam and some of the do's and don'ts of the process. Exams in the UK can often be a fairly busy affair, with lots of people all wanting to do a variety of different things.

Do:

  • Come prepared. Make sure you have charts handy for the aerodrome that you will be visiting so that you don't forget the ILS frequency or get caught unawares with a taxi route that you weren't expecting.
  • Be patient. Exams in the UK are often busy and frequencies can become congested. Try to avoid transmitting over other pilots and please don't transmit when another pilot needs to read something back to the controller. As a general rule, if it's a clearance (IFR/VFR, Taxi, Takeoff), the pilot needs to readback before the next one transmits.
  • Ask the examiner if you're unsure. The lead examiner for an exam will always use the "X" callsign, for example, EGKK_X_TWR. If you're not sure if you should be doing something, or if you just want to know what type of traffic might be useful for the exam, ask the examiner.
  • Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. This is especially important if you're flying using text only for radio transmissions. Make sure that you fly the plane before responding on the radio - if that means you need a second to turn the heading dial before responding, that's better than starting your turn much later after you've done your readback.
  • Fly standard procedures. An exam should reflect a fairly busy but normal scenario - plenty of normal IFR traffic, with the occasional VFR or non-standard movement to integrate, is usually all that's necessary. We can't assess a student if we only have VFR zone transits!

Don't:

  • Declare an emergency. Emergencies are not an exam requirement under VATSIM GRP and can be very disruptive both to the exam candidate and other pilots. If you experience a significant issue with your aircraft, it would be better to resolve it and complete your flight offline. Please do not ask the examiner if you may conduct an emergency, the answer nine times out of ten will be "no". From time to time, an examiner may ask for an emergency, in order to generate a particular traffic situation - but the examiner will come to you if you're the lucky person.
  • Conduct unnecessary missed approachesIn order to assess exam criteria, we only need a total of one missed approach per exam. Pilots who constantly go around without good reason can be disruptive to the exam and often do not allow the candidate to demonstrate any additional skills. If the missed approach is genuine or you're conducting training circuits that have been approved by the controller, then this does not apply to you. In all other cases, if the examiner would like a missed approach, they will ask.
  • Make long, unnecessary transmissions. The controllers don't need to hear your life story. If they give you an instruction, read it back as it was given. If it's your first transmission on a new frequency, keep it short and only give relevant details - what you had for dinner doesn't count.
  • Expect the candidate to grant your every request. Exams are busy. If you request something like a full racetrack procedural approach, expect the candidate to decline your request or make you wait until the traffic allows it to happen. If time is of the essence, consider accepting vectors to final approach for your approach of choice.
  • Take the biscuit. Aircraft such as Blimps (this really happened!) aren't productive in 99.9% of exams - as they really don't reflect VATSIM traffic. Really. We're not here to ruin someone's night, we're here to facilitate them in demonstrating their skills.

Once again, thank you for supporting our ATC exams and we hope you have a pleasant experience.

Edited by Daniel Crookes
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