FAA Pilot Examiner

FAA Pilot Examiner

FAA Pilot Examiners are experienced flight instructors carefully selected by the FAA to perform pilot evaluations and issue certificates for the piloting privileges at various levels . Examiners are not employees of the FAA but designated to perform specific flight tests at various pilot skill levels. The obvious responsibility is to provide this testing service carefully and by reference to the approved test guide at each pilot level called the "FAA Practical Test Standard" (or colloquially the "PTS"). The FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (often referred to as "DPE") also must be a very experienced flight instructor with the ability to quickly and fairly evaluate the pilot applicant on their knowledge, skills and judgment. The understanding is that an applicant, once certified by the pilot examiner, will be flying family and friends and their piloting abilities must be adequate to assure safety. In a sense the pilot examiner is the "gatekeeper" to the piloting world and must assure each applicant will be a safe pilot.

To qualify for a pilot flight evaluation, the applicant must first complete and document various FAA experience requirements. These tasks are recorded in a pilot logbook. The potential pilot must also demonstrate competence in various specified flying tasks (found in the "PTS") to their flight instructor who will ultimately recommend this student for the flight evaluation. Additionally, the applicant for most pilot certificates must also complete a knowledge test (completed on line with the FAA) at the appropriate level to qualify for the flight test. All this practice and experience comes together when the pilot applicant makes an appointment and takes the practical flight test with the pilot examiner.

The testing day is often both eagerly anticipated and feared by the pilot applicant. On the one hand this is the completion of many hours of work and training when the pilot will hopefully be certified and fly as a "real pilot." On the other hand, there is always fear in any evaluation. One of the major challenges of a good pilot examiner is putting these fears to rest and relaxing the applicant so an accurate assessment of piloting skills and knowledge may commence.

The first step in the examination process is making sure the applicant is qualified for the flight evaluation. This involves checking a photo identification, student certificate and all the instructor recommendations for accuracy. In addition all the experience requirements must be verified before any evaluation can begin. The major tool to assure the applicant is qualified is an FAA form 8710-1 which contains all the pilot information. This should be neatly filled out so that, with all the other documents, qualification proceeds quickly with no complications. Sometimes a disorganized heap of paper presented by a pilot applicant can take an hour to sort through and this gets the evaluation off to a shaky start.

The discussion (oral) portion of a the flight evaluation precedes any flight per FAA requirement. If correctly performed, this is a scenario-based discussion that leads the applicant through mental challenges similar to what any pilot may encounter later in their flying career. The idea here is to test the applicant's the higher level thinking skills. Many tasks in the FAA evaluation are mandated due to previous accident analysis of pilot errors. Since over 80% of aircraft accidents are cause by pilot error, the knowledge and judgment of a pilot must be carefully tested. The tasks evaluated are specified exactly in the FAA Practical Test Standards. Pilot applicants often forget that in a practical test, use of resources, such as the pertinent Federal Aviation Regulations and the Aeronautical Information Manual are encouraged. Though every good applicant studied hard to commit everything to memory, a pilot confronted with a problem year laters would have to consult references, and so should a resourceful pilot applicant!

Once the oral is successfully completed, it is time to evaluate the weather and go fly a pre-planned flight. Many eager pilot applicants forget at this point that they are the ultimate arbiters of acceptable flight conditions. Every flight evaluation by the FAA may result in a "discontinuance" if the weather is deemed unacceptable by the applicant. Trying to prove extraordinary skills in a hurricane force wind is not required (or advisable). The pilot examiner is watching for good judgment on the part of the pilot applicant when evaluating the weather conditions. Though everyone would like to fly and complete the test in a day, sometimes it is wise to postpone the flying to a better day.

Acceptable tolerances for every flight maneuver are carefully stated in each FAA Practical Test Standard. The Private Pilot level almost everywhere requires accuracy within 10 degrees on aircraft heading and 100 feet of altitude. Many pilot applicants believe (erroneously) that briefly touching or exceeding these limits results in immediate failure on the test. The preface to all FAA Practical Test Standards clearly allow for "prompt correction" from a deviation. The FAA clearly states that perfection is not the standard and prompt correction should be acceptable, unless deviations are continuous. The overview is that arbitrary standards must be set for standardization, but the reason an FAA Pilot Examiner is an experienced aviator is so they can determine accurately if you are really a good pilot despite an occasional slip. If you demonstrate caution and judgment, organize your flight carefully and use your checklist continually your flying is probably good too. For most pilots, nervousness is one of the largest impediments to good performance. Flying with an unfamiliar flight instructor before the FAA test is a good idea to practice for this experience and it gives you the advantage of an objective viewpoint.

The quality of the DPE system is assured by constant FAA oversight and annual recertification of all FAA Pilot Examiners. The FAA maintains a web site of all Designated Pilot Examiners and the tests they are qualified to accomplish. The FAA tries to assure that no applicant need wait more than a week or travel more than 100 miles to obtain their flight test. The majority of pilot examiners make their living flying in some capacity (flight instructor, airline or charter flight) and often perform the duties of DPE as a service to the industry. The duties often result in some level of humorous acrimony as with any position of authority. Legends abound of pilot examiners that have horns and take glee in failing even well-prepared pilot applicants. Probably this makes every successful student pilot even more super human. It is a great feeling to walk out as a new pilot. Every pilot examiner went through all these tests too.


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