AVweb Columnist John Deakin writes his most shocking column yet. He's saying good things about the FAA! Well, not the whole FAA, but still, it's quite a shock to hear anyone, let alone John, compliment even a small part of the FAA. Even he admits it does
July 12, 1998
|About the Author ...
John Deakin is a 35,000-hour pilot who worked his way up the aviation food chain
via charter, corporate, and cargo flying; spent five years in Southeast Asia
with Air America; 33 years with Japan Airlines, mostly as a 747 captain; and
now flies the Gulfstream IV for a West Coast operator.
He also flies his own
V35 Bonanza (N1BE) and is very active in the warbird and vintage aircraft
scene, flying the C-46, M-404, DC-3, F8F Bearcat, Constellation, B-29, and
others. He is also a National Designated Pilot Examiner (NDPER), able to give
type ratings and check rides on 43 different aircraft types.
Fair warning! I'm actually
going to say some very nice things about the FAA in this column.
If you don't like this sort of thing, skip this column and come
back for the next one. Yes, yes, I'm of sound mind (well, as
much as I ever am), and I am not being coerced, this is from the
heart, even if it does feel very strange.
Frankly, I don't much like
government, and I do more than my share of grumbling at the FAA.
I think the only natural functions of government are: 1) a military,
to defend against external enemies, 2) a judicial system, to settle
disputes, and 3) a police force, to enforce the law (and there
should be very little of it to enforce). The further we get from
those, the less well things work. Just as pigs make bacon and
pork chops pretty well, government does the basic functions pretty
well, but for anything else, I think it's like teaching a pig
to dance. Even if you do manage to do it, the results won't be
very pretty, or useful, and there will be a good deal of wasted
We shouldn't need an FAA at
all. I see no need for "government certification" of
aircraft, pilots, or anything else. All could be far more efficiently
handled by other means, outside government. It won't happen,
of course, but it's nice to dream.
What real use is an ATP certificate,
anyway? If you go out and get one, will an airline say "Gosh,
you've got the highest certificate the FAA issues, you must be
really well qualified, so here's a 747, please take this load
of passengers to Tokyo"? Of course not. No airline, and
no insurance company would allow that.
Regardless of the certificate
in your pocket, you will always be required to undergo some additional
training and checking to make sure you are qualified for any specific
operation, whether you are a Private Pilot renting a new airplane
at an FBO, or taking a trip to Tokyo. Does that certificate really
mean anything? I think not, although it is a nice trophy,
and one to be proud of. The government should not be in the business
of issuing trophies, in my opinion.
But, alas, we are apparently
stuck with a society that believes more government is the answer
to all problems, and we're stuck with the cumbersome, inefficient,
and sometimes even downright malevolent FAA.
This is saying nice things?
Hang in there, I'm coming to it!
Several years ago, I joined
the Confederate Air Force (CAF), and the Southern California (SoCal)
Wing at Camarillo, Calif., primarily because they operate one
of the last remaining Curtiss-Wright C-46 "Commando"
aircraft, long my all-time favorite airplane. I had flown them
for nearly 2,000 hours in Southeast Asia under a Chinese ATP,
but to my regret, had never gotten the FAA type rating.
There is a real shortage of
pilots, instructors, and Examiners for this ancient 48,000-pound
monster, once the largest twin ever produced. At the time I joined,
there was only one person who was current in the airplane, who
had a CFI, and was designated to give checkrides. This was Noel
Merrill Wien, the son of Noel Wien, the legendary Alaskan bush
pilot and airline founder. Merrill himself is something of a
legend, and a wonderful gentleman, one I am proud to call friend.
He is a member of the NDPER program (National Designated Pilot
Examiner Registry), authorized by the FAA to give something over
50 different type ratings in "vintage" aircraft, some
of which he's never even flown himself!
Merrill has his hands full
with all these exotic old birds, is often called upon to fly the
CAF's B-29 "FIFI," and also serves as instructor and
check pilot on it and virtually all the other WWII bombers and
transports, too. In addition, his longtime passion is the big
flying boats (PBY, Albatross, etc.), and he gives instruction
and checkrides in those, too. Very early on, he strongly encouraged
me to get my CFI, II, and MEI, and to try and get to be an Examiner
on the C-46, in order to relieve him of some responsibility for
this one airplane, and perhaps others in the future.
I had been playing with the
idea of getting the CFI, as a matter of "personal growth"
and "challenge," so this provided the final encouragement
needed. Some months and several thousand dollars later, I had
the CFI-A, II, and MEI, after meeting some really neat people
along the way. The process was made easier by the distinguished
John Caughlin, a WW-II A-26 bomber pilot, and current CFI at Galvin
Aviation, Boeing Field, Seattle, Wash. John will be 80 in a few
more years, but is lean and spry, supports a full schedule of
students, and is as good an instructor as I've ever flown with.
He makes a mockery of the stupid age-60 rule at the airlines.
My initial CFI ride was with
the FAA's Candy Carrerra of the SEA FSDO (Flight Standards District
Office). She was very quick to schedule the ride at our request,
friendly and professional, just what an FAA Inspector should be.
She was just the first of a long series of positive interactions
with the FAA. I had heard numerous horror stories of
80% failure rates on the CFI ride, all-day orals, and while I've
survived over 200 checkrides without a bust, I was more than
a little uptight over this one. Candy put me at ease, gave me
a good, solid 3-hour oral, we broke for lunch, did the checkride,
and were done with the CFI by mid-afternoon.
John Caughlin continued my
training in the Galvin Duchess, and the II and MEI were added
on with another Examiner from the Seattle area, Larry Hanna. He also conducted a smooth and professional
checkride, and was a good representative of the FAA.
CFI stuff done, I turned my
attention to becoming an Examiner.
There are many types of Examiners,
but only three major types of Pilot Examiners, with numerous sub-types
for each. These, and the requirements and privileges, are thoroughly
covered in FAA Order 8710, currently version 3C, titled "Pilot
Briefly, there is the PPE,
(Pilot Proficiency Examiner), who can give proficiency checks
required by FAR 61.58 in airplanes that require two pilots.
A PPE may perform such checkrides anywhere in the world. Application
to become a PPE is made directly to the FSDO, generally the one
where the Candidate lives and will do the checkrides.
A DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner)
can give type rating rides and proficiency checks in specific
aircraft types, issue temporary certificates (and Notices of Disapproval!),
and can also give proficiency checks, but is limited to specific
FSDO regions, usually just one, and usually the one where he lives.
Application is to the NEB (National Examiner's Board) in OKC
(which I'll cover in a short while).
NDPERs can do all the above,
worldwide, but only in "vintage" aircraft, by "groups."
For example, if the NDPER is himself type rated in the DC-3,
he is automatically qualified to give all checkrides in all vintage
twin aircraft with tailwheels. A DC-4 rating would qualify him
to give rides in all four-engined aircraft with nosewheels, and
so on. At this writing, there are only seven NDPERs, and the
program is run by the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association),
under the supervision of the Great Lakes FSDO.
I wanted the PPE and DPE designations,
for the C-46, up to the ATP level. For this, the requirements
are to hold the category, class, and type rating as a pilot and
instructor with at least 25 PIC hours in the type; a Class 2
medical; at least 21 years old; good record and reputation in
the industry; a history of cooperation with the FAA; and employment
in a position of instruction or evaluation. Additionally, for
the DPE, it is necessary to attend Examiner's School in OKC, a
week-long course costing the "Candidate" (FAA's term)
$300 plus all expenses.
While I met those requirements,
the first problem was that I live in Seattle, but the primary
"work" would be on the C-46 in Camarillo, and a second
C-46 in Midland, Texas, and perhaps elsewhere. A few phone calls
led me to Dave Lehman, of the Seattle FSDO, and Karla Towe, of
the Van Nuys FSDO, in whose area Camarillo lies. These two Inspectors
jumped right on the problem, saw the need, and agreed that Dave
would be my POI, but that since the C-46 was in the VNY area,
Karla would also sign off on it, and conduct my initial check
rides, as well as my annual "FAA oversight" rides.
All this took some months to put together, but essentially, it
was that simple, for the PPE. I am also indebted to Rick Cremer,
a long-time Inspector and friend who wrote a very nice letter
of recommendation for me. I hope his reputation has not been
irretrievably tarnished in so doing!
The end result of that process
was my designation as a "PPE C-46", allowing me to give
the FAR 61.58 checkrides (but not type ratings), anywhere.
The DPE designation is not
so simple, because something new has been added in the past few
years. The FAA has established the NEB, which meets four times
a year in OKC. Prior to the establishment of this Board, it was
common practice for an FAA Inspector to retire from the FAA, and
move straight into an Examiner's position, with the help of his
friends in the FSDO. Many felt this was unfair to the many qualified
people who were not previously from the FAA, and that perhaps
this was a "good old boy" network that did not produce
the best product. A "more level playing field" was
Now, the DPE Candidate applies
directly to the NEB, bypassing the FSDO entirely. The next time
the NEB meets (four times per year), all the applications are
reviewed, and the NEB notifies the Candidate that he meets the
requirements, or if not, what he can do to meet them. Upon approval,
the Candidate is placed in a "National Candidate Pool"
The next time a FSDO sees
a need for a DPE in their area, they send a request to OKC, stating
the exact requirements. OKC then does a search in the "pool"
for the three most qualified people in the FSDO's area, and the
FSDO must select from those choices. If the former FAA Inspector
is one of the three, fine, but if not, he's out. Seems like an
improvement, to me, albeit at the cost of a little more bureaucracy,
and time. Yes, I know, that's a contradiction with my opening
remarks! So, sue me!
At first, this NEB business
seemed like a formidable obstacle. But Dave and Karla thought
about it, talked about it, then agreed that if they asked OKC
for a DPE in the C-46, mine would probably be the ONLY name to
pop up! I don't remember who thought of this first, but it was
a stroke of genius, and after that, everything fell into place
Each DPE candidate must successfully
complete the initial pilot examiner standardization course conducted
by the Pilot Examiner Standardization Section, AFS-642, in Oklahoma
City. I attended this in September of 1997. Dave Lehman had
indicated it was a "good school," but I must confess
I had a hard time believing it, after all, it was the FAA, right?
Dry, dusty, boring? But, he was right, and it is more than
just "good." Two long, full days are taken up with
classroom instruction, using modern presentation equipment, multi-media,
and instructors who really know their stuff, and more than a few
who poke some good-natured fun at the FAA, too. Two more days
are taken up with practical, hands on demonstrations and role-playing,
with Candidates video-taped while giving a simulated oral, with
the others looking on. The group debriefs, then they watch the
video tape, then they de-brief again. If you think the FAA can
be harsh, your peers are merciless! This is a very effective
process, in my opinion, a lot of fun, and a lot of laughs. The
final day consists of some clean-up items, a comprehensive written
exam that requires an 80% score for passing, and final paperwork.
All this is run under the
watchful eye of the tough-looking, cigar-chomping, gravelly-voiced
Director, Ron Bragg. He's salty, and a little scary, until you
see him in action on the class videos, where he usually plays
a buffoon pilot trying to put one over on an Inspector. A couple
of those routines are good enough for prime time, highly entertaining, and make the point very well. After a couple
of those, it's possible to see the twinkle in his eye in person,
even when a few of us said he really played a buffoon very well.
He was very helpful to me, and is very accessible, even handing
out his direct private phone number, for problems during the school,
and later. I'd publish his number here, but I don't think is
sense of humor is that good! Several of the other instructors
did the same, and Ron and his bunch have been very quick to help
several times since that school, when I've had questions.
This process does take a fair
amount of personal time, and many months, but eventually everything
was done, and all that was needed was for the FAA to observe me
giving someone else a rating ride. The poor sucker who got dragged
into this was one Chuck Tully, an L-1011 Captain for Delta Airlines,
who is also active in the SoCal Wing of the CAF in his spare time.
It takes a certain amount of courage to do this, as there are
two people looking on, both making judgements, and "different
dynamics" in the cockpit. He rose to the occasion masterfully,
making it easy for all three of us.
Once again, Karla Towe of
the VNY FSDO came through for us. Karla is an interesting lady,
having come up the hard way as a flight instructor, including
a stint flying tourists over the Grand Canyon. She holds an ATP
herself, and a Convair 440 type rating. She has somehow gravitated
into doing a lot of things for the warbirds, and she is often
the FAA rep at airshows in Southern California. She seems to
enjoy climbing into these old birds, and while she doesn't look
for trouble, she doesn't miss much. She was on the jumpseat
with Merrill and I one day when we blew an oil line in the C-46
and pumped all the oil out on that side, but she never turned
a hair, and cheerfully hung around afterwards until dark, to see
if we could fix it in time to continue the check. When we couldn't
fix it that day, she cheerfully showed up the next day, a Saturday
(!), and finished the job.
She is acutely aware of the
difficulty in getting three or more active airline pilots, an
old airplane, the weather, and the FAA all together at the same
time, and has several times gone well above and beyond the call
of duty to make something work for us. Kudos also to her supervisors
in the Van Nuys FSDO, who are quick to approve of her handling
some of our oddball requests. Her immediate supervisor, Jim Ford,
has also been of considerable help, direct and indirect.
I called her up a few weeks
back, and asked if she could do a "few checkrides" in
the Martin 404 that belongs to Airliners of America, a new museum
at Camarillo. "Sure," she said, warily (she knows it's
"trouble in river city" when she hears my voice on the
phone), "but what do you mean, 'a few checkrides'?"
After a bit of negotiation, and a few moans and feeble protests
("You want WHAT?"), we agreed to:
For a warmup, on Friday:
- My own Martin 404 type
rating ride, by Merrill Wien, Karla watching, with Jeff Whitesell
(owner, CFI) in the right seat,
- Merrill's annual "FAA
oversight" ride as an Examiner,
- Merrill's CFI renewal,
- Jeff's CFI renewal.
On Saturday, we really got
- I conducted a type rating
ride in the M-404 on Kerry Bean, a US Airways captain, with Jeff
in the right seat, Karla observing,
- That ride was my check
ride to be a DPE for the M-404,
- It satisfied my need for
an annual "oversight ride" by the FAA,
- Karla renewed my CFI,
on "acquaintance" and Examiner status,
- And Kerry's CFI, based
on his check airman status with US Airways.
Nine certification "events"
in two days, during two checkrides! This has to be an all-time
record, yet it was all 100% legitimate, and met all requirements.
All together, this saga brought
me into direct contact with a couple dozen FAA people. A whole
bunch of airshows "from the inside" have exposed me
to several dozen more. All of them were helpful, courteous, pleasant,
Is this an aberration? Only
time will tell. Before all this, I thought most FAA Inspectors
were, uh, "bad," with perhaps a few good ones. That
has shifted dramatically, and I am close to holding exactly the
opposite view, now.
I still think most of the
"FAA System" stinks, it just cripples good people with
bureaucracy and unnecessary paperwork. But, they've got some
Be careful up there!