How Can The Designated Pilot Examiner Program Be Improved?

by Dave Weiman
Published online Midwest Flyer Magazine February/March 2021 issue

I am hearing from the aviation community concern that the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) program, which is administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), could be improved to better serve pilot applicants, and flight instructors and flight schools. In fact, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) is likewise concerned and has established an advisory board which will be looking at the program and developing recommendations as to how it can be improved. From lapses in examiner availability to provide pilot testing, to oversight of examiners, there may be room for improvement.

The advisory board is composed of highly experienced and respected DPEs who will provide guidance for AOPA’s work with the FAA’s Designated Pilot Examiner Reforms Working Group. This group was formed under a mandate from Congress in 2018 to review “all regulations and policies related to designated pilot examiners” and focus on “the processes and requirements by which the FAA selects, trains, and deploys individuals as DPEs.” One of the goals of the advisory board will be to ensure transparency and fairness to designees and applicants throughout the examination process.

We have heard over the years that DPE designations can be political, and that there are protected territories. We now hear that FSDOs are limiting the number of DPEs in their districts because they require a certain amount of supervision, and this adds to the FSDO’s workload.

While some DPEs work independent of any one flight school, some do not, which then creates a “competitive advantage” over other flight schools in the area. If availability and flight school competition are concerns, this should be addressed.

Another concern are the fees charged by DPEs, which are not regulated by the FAA.

There is a very good article on DPEs by Dan Namowitz in the December 17, 2020 issue of AOPA ePilot that describes the advisory board AOPA has put together to make recommendations to the FAA as to how the program can be improved: www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2020/december/17/experts-to-steer-aopas-proposals-to-improve-dpe-system?utm_source=epilot&utm_medium=email

Meanwhile, Midwest Flyer Magazine contributing editor, Harold Green, discusses how the DPE program currently operates beginning on page 13 of this issue.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While there may be areas where the DPE program can be improved, individual DPEs are not to go unrecognized for their service to the aviation community.

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