Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Protecting Your Freedom to Fly

Safety Publications/Articles

Instructor Tips

The Mirror Image

Student pilots rarely have the opportunity to get to know one vital link in the training chain-the designated pilot examiner (DPE). Examiners may seem almighty, but even we must bow to our master's designs.

When conducting flight tests, DPEs become temporary representatives of the FAA, so the FAA sets guidelines and expects examiners to abide. To begin, the FAA expects examiners to make appointments in a professional manner. Common sense dictates that the examiner jot down your name and your student's, the type of test, and when and where to meet you. The FAA considers it appropriate that the examiner and you or your student discuss the equipment and documents that the applicant must bring to the checkride.

The Examiner Test Guide, published in 1991, discusses 18 subjects, many of which are fulfilled if the examiner calls your student's attention to the applicant's practical test checklist found in the practical test standards (PTS). One item requires students to be trained in accord- ance with the PTS. (So far, no one has ever told me he wasn't, though it often becomes obvious later.) This means that you should ensure that your student has the correct PTS before starting training. This will help the student follow along with the PTS tasks and understand the standards for performance. All examiners must test by the PTS.

The examiner should be on time for his or her checkride appointment with your student. If your student travels to the examiner, the examiner should provide a private test environment free from telephone calls or other interruptions. If the examiner comes to the student, you should have such a place ready.

When the student and examiner are at last in private, the pressure is not on the student alone. The FAA expects examiners to leave our egos outside the test room; manage our prejudices; keep personal or business problems to ourselves; and be polite, courteous, and receptive. Having accomplished that, the examiner should provide your student with an overview of the test before it begins.

Why do examiners spend so much time scrutinizing the FAA Form 8710-1, the airman application form? Because this form is the FAA's closest association with you, it is vital that each and every block be accurate and readable.

The student's other records, such as the knowledge test, pilot and medical certificates (which are the same document for students), pilot logbooks, and aircraft records, also require the examiner's scrutiny. Concerning aircraft maintenance records, the FAA has recently mandated that examiners ensure all the aircraft's original maintenance records are available before accepting the application. Students should expect this simple instruction: "Using the maintenance records, show me that this airplane is legal to fly today." The FAA insists that examiners fly legally.

Because knowledge of what any test includes reduces anxiety, the FAA expects DPEs to conduct a pretest briefing emphasizing the role of the PTS. This briefing should include the examiner's written plan of action, on which he will jot notes during the test. Make sure your student feels free to ask questions. Once these are answered, the examiner collects the fee and begins the test.

Oral questions should last throughout the test. The FAA has long tried to quell the idea of a checkride consisting of separate oral and flight tests and instructs examiners to question applicants during and after flight.

When it comes to oral questioning, examiners' questions must be valid, discriminating, comprehensive, usable, and reliable. The questions must access all levels of learning. We don't want to ask questions that will receive rote answers. Proving that the student understands the material and can apply and correlate different elements is the true goal. Therefore, tell your students to expect scenario questions that combine a number of aspects of pilot knowledge and decision making. The examiner's maneuvers discussions should target safety considerations, tolerances, objectives, and pro- cedures. Few CFIs teach maneuvers in this fourfold fashion, but the FAA expects the DPE to measure each aspect.

Before the flight, the DPE should brief the student, emphasizing who is pilot in command (PIC). PIC status does not change during an emergency, although the examiner may offer the benefit of his or her experience at such a time. Still, nearly every checkride is routine, so the examiner should remind the applicant that the PTS is the deciding factor, the examiner is not acting as a flight instructor, and once completed, a maneuver cannot be repeated.

The FAA expects examiners to use realistic distractions during the flight test and to enforce it's definition of unsatisfactory performance. That definition is: exceeding aircraft limitations; inappropriate emergency procedures; lack of smoothness or accuracy; poor judgment; failure to apply aeronautical knowledge; not being master of the aircraft; doubt about a maneuver's outcome; or examiner intervention to ensure aircraft safety.

That last brings up Advisory Circular 61-115, Positive Exchange of Flight Controls. The examiner should use the FAA's procedure to exchange flight controls and include it in the briefing.

How does the FAA expect examiners to remember this briefing? It should be on the written plan of action, which is carried in the airplane during the checkride. The FAA also encourages examiners to use notes to debrief each applicant and the instructor after the checkride.

At the conclusion of the test, the DPE should tell the applicant the outcome. Successful tests result in temporary airman certificates, but not always in applicant questions. The FAA expects examiners to solicit questions, answer honestly, and highlight above-average performance. At this exciting moment, errors can creep into paperwork, so the examiner should control the atmosphere in a positive way. One developing concern is a new pilot's certificate number. Computer-based identity theft has led some FAA personnel to recommend that examiners write "pending" in the number block of the temporary certificate. The new pilot can still use the certificate.

When a test is unsuccessful, the FAA expects an examiner to establish a positive atmosphere and debrief the applicant no differently than after a successful test. Using the plan of action and PTS help that atmosphere, as does avoiding criticizing the CFI for a test gone sour. Failure hurts, so examiners should watch for denial, anger, bargaining, or depression from a rejected applicant. The DPE must ensure that each party has the proper documents, the applicant knows about retest credit, and, if the applicant must fly home, be sensitive to his or her readiness to do so. Rejection needs a friend, and the examiner should take that role.

Once testing is done and the applicant has left, the DPE becomes a lonely bureaucrat. Files must be typed, processed, and sent within five days to the flight standards district office. Even here the FAA has expectations of the examiner, but paperwork is dull, so we'll leave these details to the DPE and FAA.

By Dave Wilkerson

Back to the Index of Instructor Reports