The job of the DPE
If you read a bunch of the aviation websites or blogs you're bound to come up on a post bashing DPE's. Its a popular subject especially when a check ride goes south.
Some of the discussions talk about DPEs not following FAA policy or making up wild questions designed to trick the applicant. There are even stories of DPEs yelling, swearing or making inappropriate comments. Heck, I recently heard of a couple of stories where an examiner slept through the flight portion of a ride and another where the examiner got out of the airplane with the engine running and took a pee next to the airplane, in full view of the pilot and others.
Some of the stories about DPE are based on a lack of knowledge of what the really DPE does. According to the FAA, the DPE is is responsible for determining that the applicant meets the established standards of aeronautical knowledge, skills (flight proficiency), and risk management for the Tasks in the appropriate ACS. This responsibility also includes verifying the experience requirements specified for a certificate or rating.
So lets break this down a little.
1. Before a DPE can start the test, he/she must determine the applicant meets the FAA requirements for the specific certificate and/or rating. This is done with a review of the applicant logbook and a deep knowledge and understanding of the FAA regulation and in some cases FAA legal interpretations. The DPE is not allowed to start the test, not even the oral, if the applicant isn't qualified. If an examiner issues a certificate to an applicant who isn't qualified, the repercussions are huge!
2. The examiner must determine the applicant has aeronautical knowledge appropriate to the certificate/rating being issued. They do this by reviewing the knowledge test and through asking questions during the oral portion of the check-ride. The DPE is supposed to test to the correlation level. I find this best done though scenario based questioning. You have noticed that there are several subject in the ACS that are the same for both the private and commercial check rides. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a commercial applicants should demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and understanding than a private applicant. The DPE must also review ALL the knowledge test questions that the applicant got wrong on knowledge test.
3. The DPE must also evaluate the flight skills and risk management skills in accordance with the ACS. The DPE is basically a passenger during this flight. The DPE is not allowed to teach, or assist the applicant in any other way other that what a non-pilot passenger would be capable of. Any intervention from the DPE results in a Notice of Disapproval. If the DPE has to take the controls, call for a go-around from an unsafe approach, stop an applicant from breaking a reg or aircraft limitation are all grounds for the Notice of Disapproval. If an applicant screws up a maneuver, can the applicant request to do it over again? The only time a DPE may allow an applicant to repeat a maneuver is when a Task is incomplete, or the outcome is uncertain.
What is Satisfactory performance?
Satisfactory performance requires that the applicant:
•demonstrate the Tasks specified in the Areas of Operation for the certificate or rating sought within the established standards;
•demonstrate mastery of the aircraft by performing each Task successfully;
•demonstrate proficiency and competency in accordance with the approved standards;
•demonstrate sound judgment and exercise aeronautical decision-making/risk management; and
•demonstrate competence in crew resource management in aircraft certificated for more than one required pilot crewmember, or single-pilot competence in an airplane that is certificated for single-pilot operations.
What is Unsatisfactory performance?
Typical areas of unsatisfactory performance and grounds for disqualification include:
•Any action or lack of action by the applicant that requires corrective intervention by the evaluator to maintain safe flight.
•Failure to use proper and effective visual scanning techniques to clear the area before and while performing maneuvers.
•Consistently exceeding tolerances stated in the skill elements of the Task.
•Failure to take prompt corrective action when tolerances are exceeded.
•Failure to exercise risk management.
So how does this fit together? Lets look at an example or two or three.
So lets say during the flight portion of the test, an applicant comes in for a landing too high and too fast and elects to do a go-around early in the approach. In this example, the task is both incomplete and the outcome uncertain. The applicant showed good judgement and went around early (good risk management). This could be a good example of allowing the applicant to repeat the landing. If the applicant makes the next approach and landing in accordance with the ACS, that task could be considered satisfactory.
How about different pilot applicant conducting a short field approach comes in too high and too fast but continues to land 1/2 down the 3000 foot runway (and 1000 feet deyound the desired touch down point)? In this case the applicant failed to fly in accordance with the ACS standards, failed to take corrective actions and failed to exercise risk management skills. This would be an example of unsatisfactory performance.
Let's take an example during the oral. During the a discussion on stalls and spins the applicants states that adding power is more important during the stall recovery because it gets the air flying over the wing faster. When asked how to recover from a spin the applicant states "I don't need to know that because I have a chute". Would you find these answers acceptable under the ACS?
Pilot Examiners go through extensive training before doing their first flight test. Usually the first several test are under the watchful eye of an FAA inspector. DPE are all current CFIs with extensive backgrounds in aviation. The DPE wants you to pass and will do everything allowable within the ACS and FAA guidance to do so.
There are a few bad apple DPEs out there. If you come across one, document what happen on the check-ride and talk with your local FSDO. The FAA takes the matter of DPE conduct very seriously. Sometimes applicants are just pissed off at the DPE because of a failure. However there may be a serious issue that the FAA must remedy. It may take some time, but the FAA will weed out these bad apples.