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DPE system reform taking shape

Some tangible progress to boost system efficiency may soon become evident online. And a timeline is coming together for several systemwide overhauls recommended to the FAA by an industry working group in June, said Christopher Cooper, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs, who led a subcommittee of the working group.

Based on discussions at the airshow, the FAA supports the work and recommendations developed by the industry working group. One recommendation that is currently being developed is an improved method for applicants and the FAA to connect with DPEs. Development of this small yet impactful recommendation to upgrade the FAA’s online designee locator search service would allow practical-test applicants to connect more efficiently with examiners. A task list for improvements will include ensuring that information about DPEs is current and provides accurate details regarding the examinations individual DPEs are authorized to administer. Another high priority is for the locator to effectively help match those seeking tests in areas that have sparse DPE coverage with examiners who can administer their exams.

Industry and the FAA are counting on the upgraded designee locator search page to help fill gaps in the geographic deployment of approximately 900 DPEs. Right now a patch is helping: In October 2018 the FAA waived geographic constraints on DPEs’ testing authority, allowing them to travel more widely to give exams. But a longer-term solution is seen in a national DPE oversight structure that can focus on the selection, training, deployment, and supervision of DPEs, Cooper said.

Given the irregular distribution of DPEs across the system, a related recommendation that has broad support from industry and the FAA is to make mentorship services available to examiners. This innovation would consist of a formal program using experienced DPEs to act as a resource for the FAA, and to advise newly designated DPEs as they begin to interact with the pilot community, Cooper said.

AOPA is also relying on DPE-reform mentors by seeking the guidance and expert advice of members of a new body, the AOPA Designated Pilot Examiner Advisory Board. Convened in December 2020 to help build transparency and fairness into the DPE system, the advisory board met in person at AirVenture, where strategies for future DPE system improvement were discussed, including how to improve the training of applicants and how to ensure adequate deployment of DPEs.

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