I am retiring my DPE wings, and after 19 years of service, I can confirm it isn’t exactly the easy and fun “dream” job I first envisioned, but it is a challenging and highly rewarding way to contribute to the future of aviation. With the growing demand for DPEs, this might be a good time to consider taking that next step.
As with all pilot certificates and ratings, there are minimum qualifications (see FAA Order 8000.95, Designee Management Policy, on the FAA.gov website). Minimum requirements vary depending on the initial designation being sought, but for private pilot airplane examiners, the DPE applicant must be at least 23 years of age, have at least 2,000 hours’ total pilot-in-command (PIC) time (100 during the previous 12 months), and 500 hours’ dual instruction given. A current flight instructor certificate and at least a third class medical certificate must be maintained.
Since every flight standards district office (FSDO) has switched to the new Designee Management System (DMS), procedures for application, selection, and for qualifying new DPEs have changed significantly. All DPE applicants must now complete their application through DMS at the designee.faa.gov website. Once submitted, the wait begins.
When a need for additional DPE assistance arises, the managing FSDO can access and review all DPE applications currently in the DMS database. Although all applicants can be considered, to avoid the “good old boy” system of DPE appointment, selected applicants must be approved by a DMS evaluation panel to assure the highest qualified applicants are ultimately designated. To improve your chances of being selected, previous experience in large turbine-powered aircraft, chief flight instructor, check airman in airline or charter operations, or military pilot evaluator duties will improve your ranking. It is also very helpful to include in your attached résumé and supplemental information documents any recent experience in general aviation, FAASTeam activities, or safety counselor experience.
When selected, your next step will be to complete an interview with a FSDO flight safety inspector (FSI) who will confirm you meet all general and specific qualifications, and that you possess the necessary qualities to become a successful designee. Following the interview, you will be directed to complete an online training course (fee $120). In most cases, applicants will also be asked to complete a proficiency flight check with an FSI. Next, you will attend a five-day initial pilot examiner standardization seminar in Oklahoma City (fee $480, plus expenses). This is where you will learn a great deal of what a DPE really does, how to prepare for and conduct a checkride, what you can (and can’t) do, and what administrative duties you also will be responsible for. Upon completion of this seminar, you will then be directed by your managing FSDO to locate a willing private pilot applicant to which you will administer a checkride while being observed by an FSI.
Once you are officially designated, to maintain your authorization, you must complete annual recurrent training with your managing FSDO and recurrent training with a visiting FAA team (AFS 640) from Oklahoma City every 24 months, and periodically—usually every 12 months—be observed administering a checkride. I know this may all seem like a lot of work. And I will admit it does keep you busy, but the rewards are many. There is hardly a more gratifying feeling than being able to shake the hand of your successful applicants as you issue them their new pilot certificate. It’s been an honor and privilege to serve!
Bob Schmelzer is a Chicago-area designated pilot examiner, and a retired United Airlines captain and Boeing 777 line check airman. He has been an active Gold Seal flight instructor since 1972.