The private pilot failure rate is approaching 50% and many important people in the aviation industry are confused and alarmed about why this is happening. But there can only be one reason since it is the same FAA test and the same FAA evaluators: applicants who fail are not adequately prepared! And that outcome means one of two things; either the CFI recommending the applicant is not aware of their applicant’s actual level of proficiency, or they simply don’t care. Either way, it is a failure of the CFI to adquately prepare the applicant and a result of our “hour-building” pilot system. It’s a tragedy in our industry leading to many unhappy applicants, and a shortage of DPE opportunities (testing everyone twice).
Every honest DPE hates to issue a disapproval notice for an applicant at any level. But this “tough love” is the necessary “safety correction” for unqualified learners. When the 8710 is submitted to the FAA in IACRA, the understanding (and briefing) is; “you are now a private pilot, unless you prove otherwise. You start with 100% on every FAA evaluation!” If the system works correctly, with the CFI and DPE working to the same standard, an unsatisfactory outcome should be rare. An “unsat.” crushes the applicant’s dreams and it’s very hard to put a positive spin on this otherwise negative experience. But try this one; “we saved you from dying from a serious deficiency of skill in a certain area.” Of course, these exact words are not appropriate in a postflight briefing, but that is the harsh reality. Aviation is very unforgiving of errors or deficiencies. My mentor DPE, still testing with 44 years in the business, offered this advice to me when I started 25 years ago; “You never fail anyone, they fail themselves!”
A successful flight test requires every CFI to discover – and improve – the applicant’s knowledge and skill level above ACS standards before recommending an applicant for a practical test. This greater care would also help relieve the current shortage of DPE testing slots. Watch endorsements and experience too –1/5th never qualify to even test.
The idea that a CFI or applicant would go “shopping for a Santa Claus” DPE – who is cutting corners and “issuing paper” – is totally contrary to aviation safety (and your personal well-being). By seeking out a notoriously “easy examiner” you are ultimately jeopardizing your own safety. Every honest pilot should want to discover their weak areas (thank you!) and fix them before something bad happens. This honesty should also be at the heart of every CFI’s flight review. We need to discover and improve weak knowledge and skills before they hurt us. And the pilot looking for an “easy flight review” is as guilty as the applicant “shopping for a Santa Claus.”
Fortunately, these notices are rare and seem to be issued about once a year all around the country. But their effect on the training industry is very damaging and can last for years. Cinncinati FSDO is still experiencing a “DPE deficit” and re-flying check rides from Michael A. Puehler. Unfortunately, many pilots in the area already know this dishonest testing is occurring. No one should be surprised (or mad) when this sketchy activity is shut down by the FAA:
I know someone that did their CFI with him. They passed and he asked if they wanted to do their CFII with him THAT DAY… the applicant hadn’t done any CFII training, wasn’t IFR current, the plane they were flying didn’t have a GPS and wasn’t IFR certified yet XXXX passed them and gave them their CFII. I thought it was sus and the owner of the flight school was pretty pissed about it since he knew the applicant wasn’t ready and the plane wasn’t even legal to do it. Reddit Thread
The Problem of New, Inexperienced CFIs
As regards pilot failures on flight tests, the finger is clearly pointing to the recommending CFIs. Our crazy “hour-building culture” of the FAA system is certainly a large part of the problem. Only in the USA do new aviation educators, just approved and with no real experience, enter the workforce to start teaching immediately. In Canada, a new CFI cannot legally teach one-on-one. They are required to be supervised by an experienced CFI (Class one or two). But in the USA, 2/3rds of “active CFIs” (the 8-10K doing the majority of the teaching) are on the job for less than one year before they move to more lucrative piloting jobs. Most new CFIs do not have adequate mentorship and they seldom have enough time on the job to get good at teaching. But these beginners are educating most of our new pilot applicants. We should not be surprised by a 50% failure rate.
The target audience for this program is newly minted CFIs. SAFE has experienced CFIs and DPEs traveling to flight schools (and teaching online) to bring up the professionalism of these new educators. And fortunately, most of these new CFIs are eager for more information and want to improve their skills. But the flight schools and academies also need to buy in to promote this initiative more widely. Please get in touch if you want to access these services. Individuals can join and sign up for mentoring . This effort pays you back with improved test results and safer pilots – everyone is happier. Fly safely out there (and often); have a great holiday!
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