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When training for a pilot certificate or an additional rating to an existing pilot certificate, at some point you will have to take Practical Examinations (Checkride). The FAA is responsible for performing these Checkrides, but they do not have enough personnel dedicated to doing this job. That’s where the designated pilot examiner (DPE) comes into play.


Earl Downs has been in the DPE business on and off since 1964. To this date, he has administered approximately 1,700 Practical Examinations and is the guy to go to if you want details about how the DPE system works. Here is what Earl has to say about DPEs.


By Earl C Down DPE/SPE

First, let’s look at how DPEs are created. We get so used to using Federal Aviation Regulations (Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations) to find out how the rules work, it is easy to forget that there are other ways that the FAA can regulate and manage aviation. One of those ways is by producing FAA Orders. If you look in the aviation regulations, you won’t find anything that references Designated Pilot Examiners. You’ll need to go to FAA Order 8000.95B to find out what it takes to be a DPE. It’s a complex read and in my explanation, I’m going to use generalities and avoid specific details.


Once it is determined the applicant for DPE status meets the FAA order 8000.95B pilot qualification requirements, that applicant may apply for DPE status. If accepted, he or she will be required to attend a substantial training program (at the applicant’s expense) regarding the procedures and rules of testing pilots. A key part of this training emphasizes the importance of standardization when performing practical examinations. The responsibility for this training program falls under FAA Section AFS 600 which is called the Regulatory Support Division. The applicant then goes into a pool from which the FAA may draw from to fill the need for a DPE. Going through the application and training process is no guarantee that the applicant will be selected as a DPE. If after a designated period of time, the qualified and trained DPE applicant is not selected, the applicant must repeat the process (bummer!).


If a DPE is called up they are then turned over to local FAA management, which is usually the regional Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). However, in some cases, the management may come from another source within the FAA (this is the case with me).


Even though FAA training emphasizes following approved testing procedures and standardization, we all know that many DPEs differ in the way they perform testing. All DPEs are aware of the importance of following either the Practical Test Standards (PTS) or the Airmen Certification Standards (ACS). However, as the DPE moves into local FAA management their Managing Supervisor (MS) may have slightly different ways of doing things. Each DPE must create a Plan of Action (POA) for each pilot certificate or rating they are approved for testing. The DPE’s Managing Supervisor must assure the POA meets the testing requirements but the testing scenarios may vary from one DPE to another.


DPEs are frequently monitored to assure that they are complying with the testing rules and that their testing is performed following FAA requirements. This includes recurrent training and Checkrides for the DPE. It is also required that a Managing Supervisor periodically sits in on a Checkride and observes the Checkride as it is being performed.


The cost of taking a Checkride also varies from one DPE to another because there is no FAA-recommended rate. The only mention the FAA gives of what a DPE charges is the use of the word “reasonable.” Some DPEs publish rates that allow you to shop for the best rate, while other DPEs may not provide their checkride fee information until you make the phone call to schedule a Checkride. In other words, every DPE runs their own business, and fee structures vary a lot. Other parts of a DPE’s fee structure to learn about ahead of scheduling your Checkride would include, cancellation fees, no-show fees, fees for failing the test during the ground testing or flight testing, and the method of payment.


So, now you have an idea of how the DPE system works. Speaking for myself, I take the importance of being a pilot examiner very seriously and am well aware that my decision can affect someone’s career and safety in aviation. I take great pride in the fact that I have given Checkrides to pilots who have retired from flying as airline captains. However, I take just as much pride in providing general aviation with qualified pilots who simply fly for the enjoyment of being an aviator.

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