Clarity in Communications Theory Validity

Received from UK CAA on 24th November 2022

If the Communications theory examination paper is taken along with the other examinations for the issue of a LAPL, PPL or NPPL then the validity period is based on the whole examination set and the 24-month period starts from the final examination passed.

If the Communication theory examination paper is taken as a stand-alone examination (e.g. for the purposes of applying for the Flight Radio Telephony Operators Licence (FRTOL)) then the 24-month period starts from the date of successfully passing that examination paper.

Updated added on 25th May 2023
This is clarified on this web page.
Note: the paragraph under the heading ‘Initial Issue’ may need to be expanded to see the information.

Communications TK Exam Validity

This has recently come up in the context of applying for the FRTOL either on its own or at the same time as applying for a flight crew licence. It will look more like a complex legal argument than anything else but stick with me for a moment.

Generally, the length of time an examination remains valid for issuing a licence or rating is defined by FCL.025. Specifically, FCL.025 (c) states:

(c) Validity period
(1) The successful completion of the theoretical knowledge examinations will be valid:
(i)  for the issue of a light aircraft pilot licence or a private pilot licence, for a period of 24 months;


(iii) the periods in (i) and (ii) shall be counted from the day when the pilot successfully completes the theoretical knowledge examination, in accordance with (b)(2).

and, for completeness:

(b) Pass standards
(2) Unless otherwise determined in this Part, an applicant has successfully completed the required theoretical knowledge examination for the appropriate pilot licence or rating if he or she has passed all the required theoretical knowledge examination papers within a period of 18 months counted from the end of the calendar month when the applicant first attempted an examination.

There are currently two interpretations of FCL.025:
Interpretation 1
FCL.025(c)(1)(iii) states that the ’24-month period’ referred to in FCL.025 (c)(1)(i) starts when the pilot successfully completes the theoretical knowledge examination (note the use of the singular ‘examination’), in accordance with (b)(2).
Section (b)(2) states that the successful completion of the theoretical knowledge ‘examination’ means passing all the required theoretical knowledge ‘examination papers’ within a period of 18 months counted from the end of the calendar month when the applicant first attempted the ‘examination’.
In essence, then, the ‘successful completion’ clock starts ticking from the end of the calendar month when the applicant first attempted an ‘examination’. The clock finishes 18 months later.

That leads us to need to look at the definition of the term ‘examination’ and FCL.025 has some helpful guidance material (i.e. soft law / best practice) in GM1 which states:
(b) ‘Examination’: the demonstration of knowledge in one or more examination papers.
(c) ‘Examination paper’: a set of questions, which covers one subject required by the licence level or rating, to be answered by a candidate for examination.
When these two definitions are read together with each other these terms mean that an ‘examination’ consists of one or more “examination papers’

In summary, then, an applicant starts the ‘examination’ and an 18-month countdown clock starts ticking at the end of the calendar month during which the applicant first attempted the ‘examination’, which by implication means the first ‘examination paper’. The ‘examination’ finishes after the applicant successfully passes the last ‘examination paper’ and has de facto successfully completed the ‘examination’. On this ‘day’ [see FCL.025 (c)(1)(ii) above] a 24-month countdown timer starts during which time the applicant must successfully pass the FRTOL practical.

Interpretation 2
All that stuff above is dancing on the head of a pin and for the purposes of the FRTOL practical, the 24-month countdown clock starts the day the applicant passes the Communications theory examination – full stop!

Suffice it to say, that when I asked this question during my FRTOL Examiner Assessment of Competence (EAoC) the UK CAA FRTOL Chief Examiner helpfully clarified this by stating that Interpretation 2 was the correct interpretation because the FRTOL is a separate licence irrespective of whether it is applied for in isolation or at the same time as a flight crew licence.

Furthermore, to do otherwise would mean that there were different TK validity rules when applying only for the FRTOL in isolation as opposed to at the same time as a flight crew licence.

UK CAA Website

The latest but perhaps not last chapter is information on the CAA Website. Looking under ‘Exam Validity’ it states:

If you take the Radiotelephony Communications test together with the theoretical exams for the issue of a PPL, LAPL or NPPL licence all exams must be passed within an 18-month period.

The Communications examination will then be valid for 24 months following the final theoretical examination.

Thanks to Charlie at Devon & Somerset Flight Training for spotting that this advice had been added to the CAA website.

GASCo Airspace Infringement Avoidance Webinar – 7th November 2022

The General Aviation Safety Council (GASCo) held a webinar recently on the subject of airspace infringements. There was a lot of useful information much of which related to the use of RTF including Frequency Monitoring Codes (FMC) aka ‘listening squawks, what to do when lost, planning your flight (including frequencies that you may need) DACS, DAAIS, ATSOCAS etc etc.

The recording can be watched here.

Also present was Amanda Rhodes (Air Traffic Controller, Luton and Stansted). Amanda’s talk (starting at 32:00 mins into the online session) was very interesting as it was from the perspective of the air traffic controller. A great deal of RTF training is understanding the view from ‘the other side’, as having this empathy helps when planning your flight and making requests to, for example cross controlled airspace.

There were a couple of reference made to ‘sounding slick’ over the radio in order to maximise your chances of getting a clearance. I am not sure I agree 100% with that. At least in my experience the controllers do all they can to assist those pilots who appear to be less confident.

Back in 2004, my friend and I flew an identical route through London City, Stansted, Luton, Heathrow, Solent and Gatwick airspace initially in his Aztec with me on the radio in my then rather unconfident PPL manner and then again in my C172 with his rather more confident ATPL manner. The result…the same clearance were given and the pretty much the same route flown. Flyer published the article and I have uploaded it here.

SRG 1171 and CAP 2325

CAA form SRG 1171 and CAP 2325 are designed to provide the candidate with as much information as possible before they attempt the FRTOL Practical Test. CAP 2325 states that…

“Prior to booking the Practical Test, the candidate must complete form SRG1171 and present this to the FRTOL Examiner. Form SRG1171 confirms that the minimum required Radiotelephony training has been completed prior to the Practical Test. It also confirms to the FRTOL Examiner that the candidate is aware of the subject matter and knowledge required in order to pass the test”.

One of the first questions I ask a prospective candidate is “Have you read CAP 2325?” This tends to focus the mind. Recently, a prospective candidate (from a regular ATO) approached to book their FRTOL assessment. I wasn’t getting a warm feeling that the candidate was as aware as perhaps others have been but it is not the job of the examiner to prejudge the candidate, just assess on the assessment evidence. 24 hrs before the assessment another instructor at the ATO telephoned to say that he had been asked to sign off the SRG 1171 and he simply was able to because there was no evidence that all the elements of the training had been completed. “That’s a Good Call!” in my book. The candidate can make sure they have completed the training and I am sure they’ll make a more confident candidate when it comes to the assessment. I am sure that’s what the CAA had in mind when designing the procedure, so well done to the instructor and ATO concerned!

Reading CAP 413 isn’t enough!

Recently, when booking candidate’s FRTOL Practical Tests, I have been hearing…

“I have read CAP 413”

Unfortunately, that isn’t enough. Detailed knowledge of CAP 413 certainly is required but on top of that the ability to place the RTF calls correctly during the different flight phases of flight (e.g. departure, en route, approach, diversion, emergencies) and in the context of the various categories of service inside and outside controlled airspace (i.e. Air Traffic Control (ATC), Flight Information Service (FIS) and Air/Ground Communication Service (AGCS)) is necessary in order to be able to apply the information contained in CAP413. We have recently updated our training material – take a look!

Rehearse! Rehearse! Rehearse!

Approach the FRTOL Practical Test as a performance like actors do. Rehearse all the various different procedures either with online tools, a fellow pilot or a long-suffering partner! If you cannot find a suitable practice partner, then contact us and arrange 1:1 sessions.

New! FRTOL Course Material Released

We have updated our FRTOL course material The aim of our FRTOL course is to fully prepare candidates for both the Communications Theoretical Examination (TK) and the NEW UK CAA FRTOL Practical Test.

The traditional technique of learning to correctly use the radio in an aircraft by magical ‘instructor-to-student’ osmosis never did work and the NEW UK CAA FRTOL Practical Test will, no doubt, bring that into sharp focus.

Our course closely follows the UK CAA Communications Theory Learning Objectives (LO) and SRG 1171 Flight Radiotelephony Operators Licence (FRTOL) Practical Test Training Syllabus – Record of Completion to make sure that the candidate is fully prepared to be assessed against SRG 2160, Flight Radiotelephony Operators Licence (FRTOL) Practical Test Report Form. The course takes approximately 2-days to complete.

If this course is what you are looking for then please “Pass your message!”

Feedback from the 1st few FRTOL practical tests…

Having done a few of the new FRTOL practical tests now, some themes are beginning to emerge, here are a few that I made a note of…

  1. Where a CAP413 procedure exists and this procedure is demanded by the FRTOL route, then the procedure the candidate uses must be as per CAP413. A number of candidates are using procedures that do not accurately reflect those in CAP413.
  2. Using words and phrases that are not included in CAP413 Section 2.18 Standard Words and Phrases should not be used i.e. “copy” e.g. in the context of receiving the weather, “looking” or “keeping a good lookout” e.g. when receiving traffic information.
  3. Incorrect pronunciation of numbers e.g. “Fifteen” instead of “Wun Fife”, ”Two zero zero zero” instead of ”Too tousand”
  4. Understanding the difference between the different Categories of Service i.e. Air Traffic Control (ATC), Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) and Air Ground Communication Service (AGCS). Specifically, knowing the difference between “Report lined up” in the AFIS context and “Runway ##, line up and wait” in the ATC context.
  5. Incorrect initial call made when inbound to an airfield that provides AGCS, AFIS and AGCS.
  6. Understanding that the concept of ATSOCAS does not exist inside CAS.
  7. Including the ’request’ element of the procedure to the initial call and excluding it from the response to ”Pass your message”.
  8. The correct response when passed traffic information: ”Traffic in sight” or ”Traffic not sighted” phrases like ”Keeping a good look out” or simply ”Looking” are non-standard and not really that helpful to the serving ATSU.

For the ATOs/DTOs…

  1. Candidates who are not attending a recognised course of pilot training may self-certify, those that are attending a recognised course of training may not self-certify. CAP 2118 Section 6.2 refers, as does page 2 of CAP 2325.
  2. A candidate who completed the old paper-based Communications exam (there may still be a few around!) need to bring their CAA5016 Course Completion Certificate with Section 3 completed as evidence of having completed their Communication theory exam. The only people who the CAA permit to sign Section 2 of the CAA 5003 are UK FRTOL Examiners. Logically then, this can only be completed prior to a FRTOL Practical Test when the Communication exam was invigilated by a FRTOL Examiner who is also a Ground Examiner and the candidate completed their Communication theory exam with one FRTOL Examiner before going to another FRTOL Examiner to attempt their FRTOL Practical Test – I cannot see that happening a lot!
  3. Please make sure that the candidate has read CAP 2325!

I’ll continue to add to this list as I conduct more FRTOL practical tests…