How to Use FAA Publications Effectively

As a CFI, you must not only know where and how to access appropriate flight training information, you must also know how to incorporate the information into each lesson you’re teaching.

Understanding where to find information is just as important as knowing the information itself. Click to Tweet

Using FAA publications effectively comes down to four simple steps.

#1. Knowing where to find the information (books, websites, etc.).

#2. Referencing the appropriate information (handbooks, regs, etc.).

#3. Checking the proficiency standards (PTS, etc.).

#4. Applying the information to the lesson.

Pretty simple, right? Well, not so much apparently. I know a few CFIs who couldn’t show you how to properly use the FAA’s publications even if they had a gun to their head. Why? It’s because they were never taught how to use them by their instructor(s).

Ain't That Some Shit?

And what happens because of this?

Well, because those CFIs don’t understand how to use FAA publications, they don’t teach their students how to use them either, creating a chain reaction of FAA certified pilots and flight instructors with no idea how to use the FAA’s own resources. How’s that for irony?

Hopefully you aren’t one of these CFIs. But if you are, or if you’re someone who’s never been taught how to use them, here is the rundown on how to use the FAA’s publications and incorporate them into your flying or flight training activities.

Using FAA Publications

There are plenty of great commercial resources available (Jeppesen, Gleim, etc.), but in the eyes of the FAA, their manuals and publications are the only ones that really matter. So this means that even though you may use different reference materials in your daily flight training activities, you must still know how to use the FAA’s publications and be able teach your students how to use them as well.

Frustrated 311 x 236

Like every other government publication, the FAA’s publications are bland, boring, and just plain suck. So to keep you from hanging yourself, let’s just look at four of the most commonly used publications in flight training.

Most Common Publications Used in Flight Training

Each of these, along with just about every other FAA publication, can be accessed and downloaded free from the FAA’s website at:

  • Federal Aviation Regulations (Specifically 14 CFR Part 61)

Provides regulatory guidance on the areas of operation and aeronautical knowledge that must be learned by an applicant in order to earn a certificate or rating. Access Here

  • Practical Test Standards (PTS) (FAA-S-8081–14B)

The PTS explains the proficiency standards which must be met for the knowledge areas and the areas of operation specified in 14 CFR Part 61. Download Here

  • The Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083–3A)

This handbook explains how to properly execute the areas of operation specified by 14 CFR Part 61. Basically, it tells you how to fly the maneuvers. Download Here

  • Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083–25A)

This manual explains the knowledge areas required by 14 CFR Part 61. Download Here

Incorporating FAA Publications into Your Lesson(s)

OK, so now that we know where to find the information (FAA website, books, etc.), let’s find out how each publication relates to a given lesson, and also how they relate to each other.

Example of a Maneuver Lesson

Here are the areas of operation required for a Private Pilot certificate as specified in 14 CFR Part 61.107. For this example, let’s look at item (v), “Performance Maneuvers”, in which the Private Pilot PTS requires proficiency in Steep Turns.

(b) Areas of Operation. (1) For an airplane category rating with a single-engine class rating:

(i) Preflight preparation

(ii) Preflight procedures

(iii) Airport and seaplane base operations

(iv) Takeoffs, landings, and go-arounds

(v) Performance maneuvers

(vi) Ground reference maneuvers

(vii) Navigation

(viii) Slow flight and stalls

(ix) Basic instrument maneuvers

(x) Emergency operations

(xi) Night operations, except as provided in § 61.110 of this part; and

(xii) Postflight procedures

Standards of Proficiency

Alright, we now know which areas of operation are required by 14 CFR Part 61, so next, let’s take a look at the Practical Test Standards (PTS) to see what standards of proficiency are required for steep turns.

The private pilot PTS states that an applicant must demonstrate the following level of proficiency in steep turns:

  • Exhibits knowledge of the elements related to steep turns.
  • Establishes the manufacturer’s recommended airspeed or if one is not stated, a safe airspeed not to exceed VA.
  • Rolls into a coordinated 360° turn; maintains a 45° bank.
  • Performs the task in the opposite direction, as specified by the examiner.
  • Divides attention between airplane control and orientation.
  • Maintains the entry altitude, ±100 feet (30 meters), airspeed, ±10 knots, bank, ±5°; and rolls out on the entry heading, ±10°.

Referencing the Appropriate Publication

Once we understand the standards of proficiency which must be demonstrated on steep turns, we then need to locate the appropriate reference material which tells us how to actually perform the maneuver.

In the case of steep turns, the main FAA publication we would reference is the Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083–3A) which will give us a comprehensive explanation of the maneuver to include:

Airplane Flying Handbook
  • The purpose and objectives of the maneuver.
  • Aerodynamic theory of the maneuver.
  • Procedural break-down of executing the maneuver.
  • Common errors associated with attempting to fly steep turns.

Applying the Information

At this point, we know what the proficiency standards are (from the PTS), and we also know how to fly the maneuver (from the airplane flying handbook). Now we just need to get in the airplane and go practice the maneuver to proficiency standards.

Still with me? Great. Now let’s talk about how we can apply these same steps to one of the Aeronautical Knowledge Areas of 14 CFR Part 61.105.

Example of an Aeronautical Knowledge Area

One of the required private pilot knowledge areas of 14 CFR Part 61.105 is for private pilots to know the “Effects of density altitude on takeoff and climb performance” (14 CFR Part 61.105 (b)(8)).

Book Images

Since this is a required knowledge area, the appropriate reference would be the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083–25A). Just open it up, flip to chapter 10, and you’ll find the information you’re looking for. There are also other FAA publications you can reference for density altitude such as this one.

Applying The Information

Using our example above, once we understand how density altitude effects the aircraft’s takeoff and climb performance, we can then reference the aircraft’s POH to compute the performance data.

As you know, the POH provides all the information you need with regards to the procedural aspects of operating the aircraft, to include its weight and balance, performance calculations, and other pertinent information about the airplane.


So, for example, if our training aircraft is a Cessna 172N, we would simply open the aircraft’s POH to section 5, find the chart we need, plug in our data, and find out what performance we should expect from the aircraft, under these conditions.


Flight training is, and will always be, based on the standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration. As such, the training we provide to our students must parallel those standards.

While no CFI can remember everything, we should all know where to find the information we need, how to incorporate it effectively, and how to teach our students to do the same.

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