The easy answer: the applicant is the Pilot in Command and is fully responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft, not the FAA check pilot. But what about when the check pilot attempts to simulate an engine failure by chopping the throttle? At that point, hasn’t the check pilot assumed control of the aircraft?
Well, that’s what happened recently when another AS350 helicopter accident occurred during a check ride in Maui. The applicant, a commercially certificated air tour pilot working for Sunshine Helicopters, made a forced landing after the helicopter experienced a total loss of engine power. The helicopter was destroyed and both the pilot and the FAA check pilot suffered serious injuries.
The FAA defends the check pilot, explaining that it is routine to simulate the loss of engine power during a check ride. The air tour operator, Sunshine Helicopters, claims that while a simulated loss of engine power may be routine, the check pilot’s actions resulted in an actual engine failure over terrain unsuitable for an emergency landing. Causing an actual engine failure is anything but routine.
The F.A.A. regulations require that, to pass a check ride, an applicant must demonstrate that he is the “obvious master of the aircraft.” It follows that the applicant is presumed to be the pilot in command and responsible for the safe outcome of the flight. But if the applicant pilot can prove that the check pilot improperly interfered with his ability to control the aircraft, then he may successfully overcome that presumption and hold the FAA check pilot responsible.