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Fix the DPE Problem? Start Here!

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).


Join SAFE and get great benefits. You get 1/3 off ForeFlight and your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business).

Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

15 thoughts on “Fix the DPE Problem? Start Here!”

  1. 3 years now updating my app. I have 1000s of hours duel given, mostly 121. I’m currently an FAA observer for my airline for captain upgrades. I’ve email OKC and My local FSDO and have heard nothing. What can be done? I’ll continue to stay motivated as I hope to one day provide DPE services.

    1. James, I’m a DPE myself. Consider contacting other FSDO’s and see if there is a need. With the removal of geographic restrictions you can do tests anywhere. The FSDO you sign on with will expect you to do the majority in their district but its a start. Once you are designated, transferring to your local FSDO is pretty straight forward.

  2. I was a TCE, part 142, for 15 years at SimuFlite and then Bombardier. We were subject to no notice inspections by our FAA “boss” at anytime. Even then we still had to undergo recertifications very 6 months. After 15 years I had a disagreement with the FAA guy over an approach. WHAPO! I was done. Retired from active flying 6 months later. I’d had enough. By the way, I was later proven right but it didn’t matter.

    1. Sorry for you! That story has been restated to me in many forms by many people; no recourse, just “ you’re fired!” This certainly makes the DPE job “unattractive!” The DPE shortage might be a “self-inflicted wound?”

  3. David’s reflections on the contract is without question a problem which I have seen the FAA implement on DPEs. However the real problem with the DPE shortage is not the contract stipulations but the FAAs inability to select qualified DPEs. I am one example, I held a DPE authorization from 1969 to 1976 where upon in 1976 I was I hired by the FAA Flight Standards Safety Operations Inspector doing pilot certification work. I did this until retirement in 2014. I then applied for reassurance of my DPE along with continued updates and have heard nothing from the FAA. I have been an active CFI since 1966 with over 9,500 hours of instruction given. Now there is the problem! How many more we’ll qualified instructors are out there with there application submitted but ignored.
    There are DPEs out there who should never have been given there authorizations, and many lack the training, not so much what to cover on the practical, but how to properly address the applicant, how to understand the physiology of the applicant anguish they go through during the practical, how to ask proper and relevant questions, how to evaluate. I have trained many FAA inspectors and DPEs and the one thing I found was an inability to ask good questions and evaluate.
    So how do you solve the problem, very simply. Dissolve the examiner selection board and give it back to the local FSDO. They know who the best qualified pilots in their district are and can make the selection much faster. The examiner selection board has no idea who the best qualified people out there are other than by a paper application and we know how inaccurate an application can be made.

    1. Jim, I will agree that the application process is ripe for inaccuracies, false statements and whatever the applicant wants to put into it. But depending on the FSDO, the good old boy network is also ripe for favoritism, cronyism, and lack of knowing the applicants due to FSDO working constraints and location of FSDO with the rest of its region. There does not seem to be a consensay either between FDSOs nationwide of what “Qualified” really means.

  4. I too have applied for a DPE position since retiring from the airlines after almost 35 years. During my career I was a Check Airman on several aircraft, a Chief Pilot, Senior Director of Flight Operations, and an APD on the B-777, and B-787 giving rating rides, conducting line checks, IOE’s and teaching ground school such as approach classes, and International Operations. For the last three years I have been conducting Stage Checks in single and multi engine General Aviation aircraft as well as part time CFI, CFII and MEI instruction. I have over twenty thousand hours of flight time 4000hrs of as an instructor. The FAA has never responded to my repeated applications for a DPE position. My talks with the local FSDO have gone no where, as I was told it was out of there hands. As mentioned before, there are many like me who are dedicated aviation professionals wanting to give back. A simple response and acknowledgement from the FAA along with what qualifications they may be looking for in a particular region would lend a great deal of transparency to the position as well as give the applicants greater clarity for their prospects in becoming a DPE.

  5. There are many, hundreds of qualified applicants. The issue is the FAA refuses to add additional dpes. Many applicants have been waiting for a decade to be called. The problem is the FAA won’t hire the qualified applicants already in the funnel. Randy. Owner of one of the largest flight schools in MN

  6. David,
    Astute analysis as always. A DPE for 15 years, I remember when this insulting paragraph was introduced and included in our annual renewal letter. It was a shocking shot across the bow. I truly hope the DPE system can be Re Formed; more effective and fair to all parties. I think it’s going to take a lot more than the removal of this one paragraph to bring about the needed changes however.

  7. I too have had the same “ cold shoulder” approach from my regional FSDO office. I was in the first post-COVID-19 “Zoom” Phase 2 course in February 2021 and as of today not heard even as much of an courtesy email acknowledging my application.
    CFI since 1976, 36 year retired 121 captain, IP on 4 of my company airframes doing simulator, aircraft training and APD on one. For the past 3.5 years, teaching King Air C12 to the Army, I was told directly that my FSDO didn’t have the resources to monitor their current crop of DPEs.
    So what’s a high time CFI to do to be given a chance to pay it back?
    If the FAA is so desperate for DPEs and the industry is coming back with such a vengeance, what does the industry have to do to encourage the FAA to do their job?
    I hope that leaders such as SAFE, AOPA, NAFI and EAA will pull together and help change the mindset of the FAA concerning the future of the DPE program.
    Btw. All the FAA Academy instructors I interacted with during my week of phase Two training was by far the best group of CFIs I have been involved with in many years. TOTAL professional and unbelievably talented!!

  8. If you want to be a DPE, don’t allow yourself to participate in any videos or you could be terminated for having a glass of iced tea in your hand while someone else cracks a joke about waterskiing.

  9. David, I made a comment on this suibject a few days ago and see now that it has either been deleted or was never posted in comments. Can you find what may have happened with my posted comments about the DPE issue?

  10. I’ve always wondered if we would be better off to have the DPE as an obtainable rating as opposed to the FSDO randomly bestowing the privilege on whomever they please.

    The requirements could be high compared to other ratings (so many hours dual given, so many checkride passes over a period of years ect.) but that would at least make it something that is definitely obtainable as opposed to the current system now. It really is just a lottery ticket wether someone can get it or not.

    1. That is an interesting proposition. When I got my designation, you did take a knowledge test (usual system) but your score actually made a difference in the selection process. I would like to see additional evaluation on disposition and compassion level. For this job, simple flying/teaching skills are (obviously) not enough. Time as a successful CFI should correlate with those necessary DPE skills.

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