At a time when we expect our institutions to operate with transparency and act in a just manner when dealing with their stakeholders, we should demand the same accountability from the FAA FSDOs. Although the majority of the Aviation Safety Inspectors are hard-working, honest and dedicated employees, there continue to be egregious examples of unfair DPE terminations, cronyism, and corruption because there is almost no accountability and certainly no unbiased appeal process. Basically, if an FAA Inspector can get concurrence from the Manager, he or she can act with impunity, knowing there is almost nothing to fear from within the Agency. The only actions which hold any possibility of forcing proper behavior are legal proceedings or political pressure. This is simply and fundamentally wrong.
The Designated Pilot Examiners are the FAA’s direct connection to the General Aviation community. These are the gatekeepers who make sure that aspiring pilots have the essential skills, knowledge, and judgment to operate safely in the National Airspace System. The DPEs also serve as mentors to aviation educators who are training pilots, many of whom go on to become the airline officers and captains of the future. When questions arise, the DPE is usually one of the subject matter experts that the community depends on for advice and answers. They are truly the “face” of the local FAA office. Many DPEs are also active in presenting safety programs for the FAA, appearing at fly-ins, seminars, and events where they are role models for the community. When pilots run afoul of a regulation or have an accident, the FAA often requires remedial training from a trusted DPE. The entire FAA training and testing process rests on a foundation of trust in the professionalism and integrity of the examiner cadre.
The unintended consequences of arbitrary and capricious sanctions and terminations of DPEs have a serious and chilling effect on this outreach. Many DPEs, seeing such firings taking place are increasingly unwilling to risk their appointment by participating in seminars and training activities for fear of inadvertently saying something that upsets their Managing Specialist or another FAA employee. Leaders in the aviation community are reluctant to serve as DPEs for the same reasons. Many DPEs are unwilling to condemn unprofessional conduct or unfair practices by their local FSDO for fear of jeopardizing their ability to make a living.
So, when the local FSDO chooses to sanction or terminate one of these people “for cause,” it should only do so for significant and proper justification, and it should be required to substantiate this decision. There needs to be an independent appeals board, made up by both qualified FAA personnel from outside the local FAA office and by selected senior members of the examiner community who would review the evidence and make a final determination. Establishing such a mechanism is simple, inexpensive, and urgent.
If we hope to restore and maintain trust in the regulators and managers who are charged with the critical responsibilities of promoting and maintaining aviation safety, this should happen now.”
Ken is a charter member of SAFE and served on the board of directors. His integrity and professionalism are highly respected in our industry and beyond question. The reasons cited for his "termination with cause" relate to his participation in a voluntary FAASTeam seminar, and have nothing to do with his DPE service (see the linked YouTube for details). This case clearly illustrates the need for systemic change in the DPE program. SAFE, as a CFI professional organization representing almost 3500 members (and 100 DPEs), advocates for a more fair and transparent system for managing perceived DPE infractions or violations to insure a more secure and professional DPE system. (There is no "Bill of Rights" for DPEs, they "serve at the pleasure" and can be summarily terminated). We support Ken's DPE reinstatement and refer this larger issue to the currently empanneled DPE Reforms Working Group for careful consideration in their report.