Pathway to DPE!

If it is a great time to be a pilot, it might be even a better time to become an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. If you have the required ratings and experience, please follow the procedures in the current standard; register and apply on the DMS website to get your name in the pool for selection. If you are a regular reader, you have been warned here of the less obvious hazards  of this profession. What follows are just my personal observations on the job.

After 25 years serving in this capacity, I will let you know right up front, the DPE job is not what most applicants envision (god of the aviation universe dragging bags of money to the bank). There are obvious rewards and it is an honor to be an FAA examiner, no question. And being a DPE will certainly test your discerning evaluative skills – your extensive aviation experience is also necessary (but only part of the job). Being a DPE also requires a lot of patience, compassion and tolerance for the “FAA legal machine.” There is also a lot of “behind the scenes” studying and preparation required.

As a DPE you become a representative of the FAA, and right up front you have to be comfortable with that role. Your every action is viewed as an FAA representative. Real honesty and a strong moral compass is a serious requirement; the FAA puts a lot of trust in their designees. And for many people, delivering the disappointment to unsuccessful applicants (as gently as you can) is one of the most difficult tasks. (DPEs that enjoy this task are not on my personal holiday card list).

Check these links on the FAA ACS site for clarification…

Many people think DPEs specialize in asking the most difficult and tricky questions they can find; nope! It would actually be quite easy to fail any applicant if that were the goal – we have flying for years and they are usually just beginners. But the stated DPE mission is to carefully follow the FAA testing standards and get beyond the obvious nervousness to reveal what an applicant actually knows (and if it is enough to be a safe pilot as defined by the FAA).

Your personal “standard of aviation excellence” does not apply when you are wearing the DPE hat; this is the FAA’s test, not *your* test. And there is a very strict FAA emphasis on *NOT* teaching. In fact, when you feel the need to step in and teach, this is one of the first signs the evaluation is not going well and the applicant is not performing to the standards. One of the fastest ways to lose your DPE designation currently is taking over the flight controls and saying “watch this.” Those days are gone. Teaching is the CFI job, the DPE is only the scorekeeper. The three (required) DPE briefings are a good place to add the “wisdom and counsel. Leave the teaching and demos to the CFIs.

The FAA standard is pass/fail; the FAA constantly reminds every DPE: “perfection is not the standard.” It is sometimes painful, but if an applicant’s performance is a clear D- they still get a temporary airman certificate; we have a duty to be fair. Personal opinions and viewpoints need to be carefully avoided (as do any personal prejudices). And be prepared to work; one examiner reportedly flew 56 evaluations last month (and that is up north – who knows what the “record” might be?) Your life can get pretty busy. Caution is advised, however, on putting all your eggs into the FAA basket since any pilot examiner can be terminated at any time for “no cause:” (see ya!) Read the newest 8000.95 carefully.  I would also review the DPE guidance on the FAA ACS page, it gives a good overview of the DPE mission and process.

Here are the current requirements for admission on the general level:

When I was going to write this article last week, I did not see item #7 above (welcome to “door number 3”). Just about any senior CFI meets those standards. But more minimums in each class also (further down in the standard). Look at these carefully; they are the minimums.

The actual FAA selection process is then a different story, and unique toevery FSDO (the great mystery). Being a good “aviation citizen,” known by the FAA in your district, is important to your selection process, since trust is an important part of designating DPEs. (There used to be a knowledge test which is now long gone). Being a part of the FAA Safety Program (helpful/trustworthy) is going to help your case for designation. Also helpful is a CFI Gold Seal, any GA program award, or 141 evaluation history. The recent FAA ARAC on DPEs spent a lot of time with what the proper qualifications should be for an examiner. If I had a personal say, an important qualification would be a “warm heart.” The best examiners are not only technically qualified, they actually care. But it is hard to calibrate compassion on form, so there is an interview process and usually a group meeting so many personalities get to meet and interact with the candidate.

Lastly, there must also be a proven “need” in your FAA district for a new examiner. This is theoretically to avoid the well known “politics” that creeps into every human activity. The reason you see a lot of 141 instructors or 121 check airmen moving into the FAA evaluator role as DPEs is they are already executing the FAA standards in their daily jobs; you are a step up if you already hold these positions. Being comfortable and familiar with the FAA process makes your transition to DPE a lot easier and the FAA has a track record of trusted judgement and honesty.

In my case, three FAA inspectors came to the flight school one day and asked me to be a DPE (I had not even applied). I already was a 141 Chief Instructor and had earned my Master Instructor Accreditation in the first group. I definitely recommend the Master Instructor as another way to raise your level of excellence and visibility with the FAA. Best of luck; 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.

5 thoughts on “Pathway to DPE!”

  1. Is there any information on becoming a light sport examiner as I have heard that the requirements for that are less than for a standard examiner?

    1. Sport is often part of the AFS-600 designation as DPE. I will have to do some digging to see if there are still dedicated SPEs under AFS-640 (I previously knew one person who only did weight shift). Since that is a whole different part of the regulations, FAA designation at this level is a bit simpler and largely based on need (like a gyro school that needs a person to issue initial Sport Certificates). But since the two areas are very separate parts of the FAA, I have not (personally) seen anyone transition from sport (640) to 640 DPE. A tactic I *have* seen for quicker/easier initial designation under AFS-640 is to have serious qualifications in a specialty that has an FAA need (like glider or seaplane). Initial designation is often the first step to leverage the other additional fixed wing designations. This makes sense since an examiner is qualified and performing all the functions and if they have a satisfactory track record, the additional designations make sense. The only obstacle there is the FSDO “need for services” again.

  2. Over 3000 dual given, 95% applicant first time pass rate. Been a regional captain, fractional captain and currently a major airline pilot….but don’t have 200 recent PIC so not even qualified to apply according local FSDO. Its a shame because I would love to do it and share so much of what I have learned.

    1. Yes, many retired airline and corporate people lack current PIC. My best advice is get your CFI current and teach a bit (get back in the game)…this will be important when you get back into a little plane with a (maybe not too talented) applicant?!😎

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