From The CFI #6: Examiners Are Human, Too!

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Hard to imagine, but some people actually want to be the butt of insults and fear-inspiration -- and (really) make a contribution to aviation by becoming a Designated Pilot Examiner. They're less of an FAA enforcement officer and more of a souped-up flight instructor, as AVweb's Linda Pendleton explains in this month's column From The CFI.

After my last column on how to pass a checkride, one of you wrote in and asked for a column on how pilot examiners are chosen by the FAA and what kind of training and experience is required to be a pilot examiner. I thought that was a really good idea, and so here we go on the subject near, and ... dear? ... to all our hearts: Designated Pilot Examiners (DPE).

The authority for the FAA to appoint and use DPEs is contained in 14 CFR 183 -- Representatives of the Administrator. The scope of this regulation is as follows:

This part describes the requirements for designating private persons to act as representatives of the Administrator in examining, inspecting, and testing persons and aircraft for the purpose of issuing airman and aircraft certificates. In addition, it states the privileges of those representatives and prescribes rules for their exercising of those privileges.

Many years ago the FAA realized they would be unable to respond to the need for practical tests for the various pilot certificates and ratings and began to appoint civilians to take up the slack. For a time, only the FAA was able to issue or renew flight instructor certificates; and in the early years, few ATP examiners were to be found in the field. Now ATP and flight instructor designees are found in virtually all FSDO districts.

What Does It Take In General?

The criteria for qualifying as an DPE can be found in the Examiner's Handbook, FAA Order 8710.3D. The latest addition is dated 12/16/2004. In short, you have to be at least 21 years old, and have a good record as a pilot and flight instructor in regard to accidents, incidents and violations. If you've had your pilot certificate revoked for falsification or forgery, you are not eligible. You have to have a reputation for integrity and dependability in the industry and in the community. You have to have a history of cooperation with the FAA (whatever that means), and hold a valid third-class medical for initial designation. You also have to be serving as a flight instructor or in other comparable positions in a flight school, corporate flight department, air carrier or commercial operator, or as a check airman for a 121, 125 or 135 operator. If you're not employed as a flight instructor, your employment must include duties primarily devoted to testing or evaluating airmen. And finally, you must meet the eligibility and experience requirements for the specific designation sought.

Eligibility and Experience Requirements

There are as many different types of DPEs as there are types of aircraft, but lets just look at the private and the commercial and instrument designations. The qualifying experience for a Private Pilot Examiner -- Airplane is as follows:

  1. A commercial pilot certificate with an airplane category rating, appropriate class rating(s), and an Instrument -- Airplane rating.

  2. A valid flight instructor certificate with an airplane category and appropriate class rating(s).

  3. 2,000 hours as PIC, which includes at least:
    1. 1,000 hours in airplanes, of which 300 hours were accrued within the past year;
    2. 300 hours in the class of airplane for which the designation is sought;
    3. 100 hours in airplanes at night.

  4. 500 hours as a flight instructor in airplanes which includes at least 100 hours of flight instruction given in the class of airplane pertinent to the designation sought.

As you can see, the FAA is very interested in having current and experienced instructors as DPEs. Should you want to be a Commercial and Instrument Examiner -- Airplane, you need to have the above experience, plus:

  1. 500 hours in the class of airplane for which the designation is sought;

  2. 200 hours in complex airplanes;

  3. 100 hours of instrument flight time in actual or simulated conditions;

  4. 250 hours in instrument flight instruction, of which 200 hours were given in airplanes; and

  5. If the designation will include authority to conduct practical tests in large or turbine-powered airplanes, the candidate must have 300 hours in large or turbine-powered airplanes, of which 50 hours are in the type of airplane for which designation is sought. If authorization is for additional types of large or turbine-powered airplanes, then the candidate must have 25 hours in each of those additional types sought.

In addition to the experience qualifications listed, you'll have to meet the requirements of FAR 61.56 (flight review) and 61.57 (recent flight experience), as applicable, and you must be current and qualified to act as pilot in command of each aircraft for which authorization is sought and you must maintain that currency throughout the duration of your designation. Your CFI certificate and at least a third-class medical certificate must be valid throughout your designation, also.

I've Got The Time -- What's Next?

OK, so you meet all the time and experience requirements. If you still want to do this, you can get the official application here (in Adobe PDF form), fill it out and submit it to the National Examiner Board (NEB). They will review your application for the required qualifications and experience and will notify you by letter whether or not you meet the criteria for the designation sought. If the NEB decides you do not meet the applicable criteria, they will advise you how the deficiency may be corrected.

If you meet the criteria for the designation, the NEB will instruct you to apply for a pre-designation knowledge test. (And here you thought you were all done with those, didn't you?) You can take this test at any FAA-approved computerized testing center. There's a separate test for each category of designation. You should ask for the Pilot Examiner -- Airplane test. The cost involved comes out of your budget and you must send the results to the NEB within 10 days of the test date. You have to achieve a minimum score of 80% to pass this test, which is pretty much like a slightly harder commercial knowledge test. Once you pass the test, your name is placed in the national DPE candidate pool categorized by geographic area and type of designation.

When a FSDO determines that they have a need for an additional examiner, the NEB sends the FSDO the files for the three most highly qualified candidates appropriate to the geographical area and designation. (The NEB was formed partially to counter the "Good Old Boy" network that controlled the selection of examiners in some FSDOs at the time.) You don't have to live within the FSDO's geographical area to be designated by that FSDO, but you must be able to provide service to applicants in that area. (That's especially pertinent in Southern California. The city of Los Angeles has three FSDOs within the vicinity: Los Angeles (LAX) and Van Nuys (VNY), both within the city of Los Angeles; and Long Beach (LGB) within the county.) FSDOs are not bound to accept any candidate referred by the NEB and may ask for another set of names if they do not find a candidate they feel will fit their needs.

I Passed The Test! Now What?

Once you get notification from the FSDO that they'd like you to join the ranks of their DPEs, the fun really begins! One of the requirements for designation is that you attend the Pilot Examiner's Initial Standardization Training in Oklahoma City. You can find the schedule for these classes for 2005 here. You have to attend this training within three calendar months of your initial designation. This training is excellent and presents many of the procedures and pitfalls of pilot evaluation. You'll even get to star in your own video! There will be a final test, but you'll find that you are more than prepared for it at the completion of the class. (The folks in OKC are some of the best FAA folk I've ever met, and you'll enjoy the training you receive there.)

The FSDO will require you to pass an observed checkride before issuing your designation. They will observe a practical test for the designation you're seeking. The test must contain both the appropriate oral questioning and flight performance in accordance with the pertinent PTS. The FSDO inspector can elect to play the role of an applicant for this exam, or he can require you to provide a live victim. In any case, the inspector will evaluate your plan of action (a type of lesson plan that all DPEs are required to prepare for practical tests) for completeness and efficiency. It is also possible that the inspector will require the DPE candidate to show proficiency on selected flight maneuvers pertinent to the designation, but this is more often done during renewals than initial designations.

When you successfully complete the observed checkride, the inspector will have to sign the temporary airman certificate for the applicant -- if there is one -- because you will not officially be a DPE until the manager of the FSDO signs your official examiner credentials -- Form 8430-9, Certificate of Authority. Your authority will be limited to the geographic area of your FSDO. Any additional FSDOs you may be authorized to serve will be listed on your certificate. All checkrides must begin within your FSDO's geographic limits, although they may terminate anywhere.

Pilot Examiner designations are good for one year only and must be renewed according to the directions in the handbook. You will be reminded often that examining authority is a privilege, not a right, and that you serve only at the pleasure of the FAA. A designation can be terminated at any time for any reason -- or lack thereof! Gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn't it? You will also need to maintain a minimum level of activity to maintain your authority. During the past 12 calendar months you will need to have met any one of the following levels of activity, as appropriate:

  • Ten certification or aircraft rating tests in airplanes;

  • Five certification or rating tests in helicopters, gyroplanes, gliders, free balloons, or airships;

  • Five instrument rating practical tests; or

  • Five ATP practical tests.

As you can see from the above, being designated as a DPE is not an easy process, and although much of the politics of the matter has been eliminated by the establishment of the NEB, you're still going to have to be a person the FAA looks favorably upon to achieve this. Volunteering as a Safety Counselor would be a good first step for anyone looking to apply for this position.

Care and Feeding of Your Local DPE

Your local, neighborhood DPE is a pilot just like you -- and a human being, believe it or not! Remembering a few things when dealing with your DPE can make the whole encounter more pleasant for both of you. Just keep these few things in mind and your DPE will thank you:

  • The fee your DPE charges is a fee for the time allotted for your practical test. You are not paying for a certificate or rating, but for this individual's expert time and evaluation.

  • Relax! Most DPEs really want you to succeed and you have to convince them not to issue the certificate or rating you're applying for. Most DPEs are fair and most applicants know when they've failed a ride without being told.

  • DPEs are human and subject to the same frustrations and irritations as the rest of us poor folks. Making their job easier by arriving for your practical test with all paperwork in order and easily referenced (see my last column about this very subject) will go a long way to setting the scene for a successful outcome.

  • Invite your DPE to your flying club or pilot gatherings. Most have many humorous tales of "interesting" checkrides they've given and suggestions for your success. Tap the experience that got them to the rank of DPE and use it for your own benefit.

DPEs are people, too. They just have a sometimes-inhuman task to accomplish.


For more From The CFI, check out the rest of Linda's articles.