Our aviation industry is once again trying to solve the persistent “DPE problem.” The highly-publicized FAA ARAC has considered this issue for over a year and generated a report with many good recommendations. There is even a “DPE Symposium” being marketed to potential DPEs to “fix the DPE problem,” like some airline hiring job fair. But there are several persistent problems in the DPE system, so obvious that everyone is missing them entirely. (And this is only my personal opinion and does not represent my designation as an FAA DPE – every designee represents the FAA administrator in public).
To me, (personal opinion) the largest problem is the legal agreement between FAA and DPE; one-sided and and capricious. To become a DPE or renew your designation, every examiner is required to sign an agreement (every year) with the FAA. The DPE process, as well as the daily job, is completely colored by this legal contract. It basically states that every designee is potentially a temporary worker and can be legally removed, immediately and capriciously, for absolutely no stated reason or cause.
This contract is obviously designed to protect the FAA from bad actors without excessive legal costs but this relationship offers no trust or security for the DPE; it’s an “HR nightmare.” This agreement poisons the designation relationship and discourages many qualified individuals from even applying to be an examiner. Every DPE serves entirely “at the pleasure” of their local FSDO. The ax can (and does) fall at any time for no reason at all: done – gone, thank you, and goodbye. This is clearly stated (and agreed to) by every DPE in their guidance! To be designated or renewed as a DPE, this is (among other things) the required statement in the application:
It is hard to believe that good-hearted, committed professionals would sign onto a “job” where the terms of engagement are so capricious and one-sided. A DPE is not an “employee” but contractor. In the modern environment, this becomes a DPE’s sole income – a problem in itself (one DPE I spoke with gave 56 checkrides last month). What kind of people would be attracted to this kind of contract or career? The FAA obviously did not engage the HR department here. “If you want this ‘job,’ these are the terms.” Yes, it is an honor to serve the FAA as a DPE, but a contract like this is a huge disincentive to attracting committed, compassionate professionals.
Another problem involves optimizing DPE availability. Every CFI should insure that their applicants are fully prepared, and properly endorsed. Currently, an estimated 1/5 of applicants never even get to start their flight evaluations due to problems with incorrect endorsements or insufficient experience! I wrote the SAFE Toolkit App over 7 years ago as a streamlined solution to this problem. If properly consulted, this app will insure that every pilot applicant has the experience and endorsements necessary for their flight test; and it’s FREE. The test preparation process needs more careful attention to reduce the problem of wasted flight test opportunities.
There is a huge scarcity of qualified DPEs right now. But every qualified aviation professional I have approached about becoming a DPE cites these horror stories of DPE termination and the “political nature of the job” as primary reasons for not getting involved; there is no trust and security in the system for DPEs. How can a competent, lifetime aviation professional be serious about this occupation, if it literally can go away in a day with a notification from the local FSDO? And if DPEs, are basically treated as temp. workers, how can they be expected to conduct their business professionally and honorably while serving the FAA? We need to attract committed, compassionate professionals who focus on putting the applicant in a positive testing environment if we are going to grow aviation. To “fix the DPE problem,” this “employment agreement” should definitely be the primary and immediate focus for positive change. Fly safely out there (and often).
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