When I sign off on an 8710, I’m stating that the student has the required pilot skill, and the judgment necessary to safely exercise the privileges granted by the certificate/rating he is going to be tested for. The DPE, or FAA inspector, just serves as a small cross check to see if I’ve done my job correctly. Ie, they just do not have time to check over everything I’ve taught over the last few months or years… the required elements of the PTS (practical test standards) are not the end all, a pilot could pass said elements, and still be a danger to him/herself and others.
However… not all instructors see things this way. The text of 8710-11 only states: I have personally instructed the applicant, and consider this person ready to take the test.
Does this mean, every one of my students is an ace flyer; every private pilot could safely handle SLD icing, a broken throttle cable, a deer on the runway at Vr, a wheel bearing lockup, or being shot at etc… or every instrument student could safely fly an ILS approach to minimums, in TSRW, with an electrical failure, gear failure, a barfing passenger, and a loose dog in back… no. What it means is: the pilot applicant understands, the issuance of a certificate is a license to learn, and that while their initial skill levels are higher than the FAA minimums (I view the PTS as absolute minimums), they will be lacking in judgment until they gain further experience, and they must replace personal judgment with other tools… ie PAVE ( personal pilot, aircract, environment, external factors ) is one of many etc.
For some… this means they end up being fair weather pilots, in well maintained aircraft, and rarely if ever venture much beyond 50 knots from home base, and never at night, and thats ok… they use judgment to limit what they encounter, and short of WINGS, BFR, or refresher training, higher skills dont get much of a workout. For others, it means going round the world once they have enough experience, and skill to do so, and their higher skill levels will be pushed as they train for such. The certificate/rating provides for a multitude of options, limited for the most part only by pilot judgment and skill.
And what about instructors who view their role as test prep only, and they just teach to the minimums? If their students are sharp, they will do fine. If their students are not so sharp… well, thats an issue. Either A, hopefully the DPE or FAA inspector will catch any problems, or B, the pilot will take it on his/her own to work on skill and judgment after they pass their checkride.
I do think there is a moral component in this… for some people, they just dont have, nor do they seem trainable in the judgment arena. It might be they need to be paired with another instructor, and sometimes, that has worked out well… things click, and while they may be a bit iffy for a bit, they end up doing just fine over time. For others, they just dont get it… and for such students, they need to be aware of this as soon as possible, so either A, they can wash out early, or B, take a good look at themselves, and see what they need to change before continuing.