Students: as candidates, we are a nervous lot on the day we take our oral and practical pilot exam. This day, for #avgeeks, is like going before Saint Peter to learn where we will spend eternity. We are not sure if our training efforts were sufficient to pass our rating. But you are not the one that should be nervous. Maybe it should be the other way around. We are waiting all day to hear the ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ answer from our designated pilot examiner. On exam day pilot candidates usually develop a case of anxiety and fear of the DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) as we seek his almighty approval. That pass/fail response from the examiner is akin to the heaven/hell response from St. Pete. We, as ‘examinees’ fail to look at the other side of the coin. Is the DPE seeking our almighty approval? … Wouldn’t that change your attitude about the checkride? You bet it would.
But why should the DPE develop anxiety and fear of the student, or Pilot Candidate? BECAUSE YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER!! Designated Pilot Examiners are hired test proctors. Pilot candidates choose their intended DPE and make the phone calls to schedule an appointment. Candidates are the ones who bring a check or a lot of cash for the examiner. Candidates are the ones who HIRE a designated examiner to administer the applicable pilot’s exam. There should be an element of customer service considered in this transaction, since you are the customer. And if everything goes right, there will be future recommendations - - future business for the DPE.
I have heard and experienced many horror stories of examiners inflating their fees and churning and burning out pilot candidates. It’s heart breaking from a CFI’s perspective when you prepare a candidate for a test; you really try to encourage the student to enjoy the experience. You want the student to remember the day they got their new rating for the rest of their life! But I remember one particular case when customer service provided by the examiner was so bad the student later told me (even after he passed the exam) “You’re right, I will remember this day for the rest of my life. It was terrible!” Okay, so that’s not the way we want the day to be remembered.
Pilot examining has become a lucrative business for some examiners. I am not saying examiners should not be paid, but it has been my experience that, when it comes to DPEs, you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. Top dollar does not always reflect a great exam. Sometimes, it seems as though the opposite results are obtained. So, how do we fix this?
Well for starters, we can be incredibly prepared. There are plenty of examiners who will tell you in advance what their tests are like. The truth of the matter, though, no examiner should have to expose their test to sell you on their examination skills. Everything you’ll be tested on is in the PTS (Practical Test Standards). If you have a good CFI putting every point the PTS requires into context for you, you would not have to worry about a particular examiner’s test method because you’ll be able to pass the test! At the end of the day, you don’t want to be able to pass just one examiners test. You want to know, deep down in the pit of your stomach, that you would pass any examiner’s test. Bring it on!
Second, you can interview your examiner. Remember, for your exam you are the paying customer and want to remember the day you passed your exam for the rest of your life! And you want to walk away from that exam knowing you will be proud - - not only of the fine job you did, but also proud of the job the examiner did. So, choose an examiner you think is good at knowing what pilots should and should not do; good with people; and, well-respected in the pilot community. Ask yourself this question when talking with your examiner “Do I want this examiner to be the person who gives me my reason to celebrate?!” Think about it. Passing a checkride is a special moment you want it to be a happy moment. You might even ask the examiner how he or she will help enhance your celebration and special day. This is a tricky question to answer, make sure you think about how you want it to go! Don’t just go with the flow, remember you are the customer! As the customer, you want your service provider to know what you expect the experience to include.
Don’t expect the DPE to walk away after the exam. A debrief for you AND the instructor is incredibly important. Ask your examiner how they will engage your CFI. Your CFI will be better for his or her next student, and that’s a good thing! Because flight training can always be better, more efficient, and higher quality. The precious moments right after the pilot exam is where maximum learning can happen for both the new pilot and their CFI. Remember how you hired an expert to get his or her opinion about how well you know the FAA regulations, flight operations, and how to handle your airplane? This debrief after the exam is when you get all those answers, and more.
During the exam, DPE’s cannot volunteer information to help a candidate through the test. The FAA is very strict in assuring the DPE is not acting as a flight instructor, and is truly testing what the candidate already knows. But the debrief after the exam is exactly the time when the examiner can interject the opinion and offer advice. Often, the information you will hear in the debrief will involve critical comments about where you could have done better in the exam and what the examiner really hoped to see. Those comments are not meant to be hurtful. If you really listen to the debrief, you can learn a lot. Who doesn’t like learning?
Think about how your checkride dynamic would change when you engage your training experience and your examiner with these simple little shifts in mentality. Days before the checkride, when you call your selected DPE to ask about scheduling the exam, you will set a first impression about you for your examiner. Now think about it. How awesome would it be if, instead of you trying to impress your DPE, your DPE was trying to impress you!?
Comment below about your favorite examiner stories! If you have an examiner horror-story we want to hear that too!
12/30/2015 01:08:20 am
In California, they charge $500 for a practical test and $400 if you do not pass the first time. How is this price justified? How can we promote aviation to the young people if a checkride fee costs $500-$900? How is this allowed?
Don Martel, DPE
1/3/2016 11:23:03 am
Interesting article. You are correct in that an applicant should not fear an examiner. As a DPE, it is my responsibility, not to to mention common courtesy, to attempt to make an applicant feel as at ease as the circumstances allow.
5/8/2016 12:56:26 pm
I'm curious as to what state you are in and how much you charge for helicopter CFI check ride? How do you come up with your rate? Is it based only on your level of experience, geographical location or something else? Thanks.
7/19/2019 07:54:59 pm
As a student pilot who just went through the oral portion of the checkride and was failed by the DPE before even getting to the plane all while the DPE made comments like "And they say you can't make money from your hobbies."
1/13/2016 02:42:47 pm
I must disagree. I have over 12,000 hours but I should not be trying to get compensated by students who will be the future of Aviation.
9/12/2016 07:03:58 pm
I took my multi ATP checkride 2 weeks ago. I paid a $500 examiner's fee. That can seems a lot, but consider this:
9/12/2016 09:44:23 pm
I have never heard an examiner spend 7 hours for ATP. 2 hours paperwork before the oral is hard to believe.
7/3/2017 08:32:36 am
I would equate the option of asking for an FAA inspector to be exchanging Saint Peter with Satan himself!
9/5/2016 10:34:26 pm
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2/18/2017 11:22:43 am
I was thinking of getting a PPL, but reading about and viewing examiner testing on youtube has turned me off. One youtube examiner said that he expected students to have memorized the bold face lines in the POH. If the examiners are going to become a law (test requirements) unto themselves, then I would surely not pass, only having studied and been trained in the written requirements.
8/11/2017 08:45:00 am
you should go for it, dont let that one examiner hold you back, there are a bunch of them. Getting a PPL is a great experience.
9/2/2017 01:00:56 am
Why I need to pay a CFI $60-$70 in hour or the checkride $600 ??? Why is more expensive than what I charge in my computer ingeneering 6 years of study and 3 more years of BH stuff????
10/29/2017 05:44:14 pm
This article is still relevant today! I have major concerns with paying someone in cash, which I just did ($800) for CFI Checkride, especially when no receipt is given. There needs to be a FAA fee schedule that is made available to prospective students.
11/9/2017 02:16:23 pm
I'm looking into getting a (free) checkride from the FAA myself. It might be a little bit adventurous, with a slightly lower passing rate (10%?), but I think I'm ok with that. Oh well, 4-5 of us will be taking our checkrides soon, and I might just go along with the group's choice, but I do think that more people ought to go through the FAA.
5/28/2019 09:36:36 am
Taking your checkride with the FAA may no tbe an option. Many FSDOs will not do it based on workload OR (since they have to do it) will turn it into a scheduling nightmare. Further, they need to show "numbers" and if they fail you - it gives them one more indication that they are tougher. One of the dumbest things you could do. Find a DPE with a good reputation and go with them.
12/16/2017 03:28:43 am
My name is David and I have the most unique story about a DPE/Flight School owner I used to rent C172s from for my 26 year old Part 91 sight seeing operation. It is a good one. In a nut shell i rented this companys airplanes to conduct our sight seeing flights for a few months. We have to have a LOA to operate within the airspace we do tour flights. This company under the direction of their owner who is a DPE asked me to supply a copy of my LOA for them months ago stating that their attorney wanted a copy to ensure we knew what we were doing! Funny as I helped the controlling agency create this LOA tour procedure in 2011 so I told them to call the controlling agency if they needed to "know" if we knew what we were doing flying tours! They assured me (someone who works in mgt for the DPE) they had NO interest in obtaining a LOA nor doing tours to directly compete with me their customer. All in email clear as day no interest in getting a LOA or doing tours. Total lies.....Under the sole direction of the owner DPE they went ahead and sought a LOA to do tours as theyw ere also getting their 141 Flight school certification. How do I know because pilots who flew for me told me this was going on directed by the owner. Now months later they got the WRONG LOA (funny with the owner telling me my LOA had no proprietary value) and they started an ad campaing through "Groupon" and posted pics in their ad around our downtown buildings all sites they did NOT have the correct LOA in place to conduct tours! I called out the owner/DPE in a email thread with other CFIs who had flown for me and then the guy told all pilots who had previously flown my flights i paid to train/drug/alcohol test they could no longer fly my flights for me. Simply put out of spite as he did not like being called out before his pilots for lying about their real intentions to get a LOA and push me out! SO to avoid the LOA they need and are NOW waiting to get they file false flight plans to two different airport and fly at 2500 ft to get a glimpse of our city avoiding talking to the controlling agency who they are waiting to get the same LOA as we helped create with this ATC! I have not yet taken this to the local FSDO as I am NOT sure any violation exist. However, the deceitful actions lead by the owner who is a DPE is poor. Lying to a client and deceptively trying to get a copy of my LOA so they could copy it to file to get their own is piss poor. SO far......all controlling agencies are aware and hold to the claim sorry we control airplanes and will do nothing granted they cant stop them from filing to get same clearance we have! However it has been rumored this DPE has had prior complaints from applicants filed against him and I feel compelled to share the whole extremely unethical and unprofessional situation with the POI who oversees him. It is all in email showing the lies and then their actions after running an ad showing sites they do not have the correct LOA in place to go see is bad. Top it off by lying to a recent tour goer stating they had TEN years of doing these flights why stop there when NO one ATC wise will call this owner DPE out. No it doesn't have to do with testing etc etc. However, what took place goes without any current scrutiny by the local FSDO as they do not know yet. Curious isn't a DPE sup[posed to abide by any formal code of ethics and as the business owner also its just poor. trying to steal my LOA lying about the reason they needed it while assuring me they had no intentions to get one which was false. Curious what anyone would do in my shoes? I can seek info from the FSDO ( have two names referred by friends within the FAA to call) and could pose the situation and ask if this is worthy of a formal complaint or not? BUT if it does not involve any formal DPE reg bust......am I wasting my time in calling the FSDO. I feel compelled as the deceitful actions shown to me are also being carried out in falsely advertising pics of sites they cant go see under the correct LOA they need! Then additional staff lying to a client asking what experience they have flying these flight and he gets told 10 years. The whole things is shady and if allowed to go one without being called out, (he) can just go on and do it again or lie to a client etc. It does not seem to support any code of ethics I know and is not acting in good moral character at best. Would love some feedback to this unique and screwed up situation please! Thanks David Snell
2/18/2018 06:51:28 pm
I took my instrument check ride yesterday. We met 10am and he asked me did I bring a coffee for him. He sounds disappointed after I politely says No(its 10am and who still need coffee????). Our test start at 10:30am and things start going no good. After spent 20mins asking me questions, he realize he need to go to restroom and get some coffee to carry on. He pause our test and spent 10 mins to settle. Then he continued our test for like 5-10mins and paused our oral test AGAIN and walked out door starting to talk with an instructor. 10 mins later, he came in and continued the test AGAIN. Then, my test went pretty smooth until we went to the weather portion. He asked me to explain what is "VIRGA". I explained to him I never heard the word VIRGA and ask him for some hints and further clarification on this words. He seems impatient here and telling me he had to stop my oral from here and he charge $350 to finish up the rest of the test next time I schedule with him. I asked could it be possible that we finish the rest of the oral before we leave this room because I literally just stuck on " VIRGA" and I could able to answer previous questions. He seems more impatient here and start to do his paper work thing all along and left me sitting there shocking and worried.
4/9/2018 09:02:08 pm
"VIRGA" a mass of streaks of rain appearing to hang under a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground.
10/22/2018 09:26:54 am
I can appreciate why many DPE's want to get paid in cash. A personal check may bounce or get cancelled. However, I want a receipt back for my records.
8/5/2019 02:03:31 pm
What EVERYONE must understand is the DPE is not the bad guy. The DPE is doing what comes natural and what would come natural to you, if you were in their position. Sadly, the FAA has done the world of aviation a disservice by not standardizing the pricing structure for practical exams. Allowing the examiners to charge a "REASONABLE" amount "8900.2; Ch. 5, Section 1-C" has enabled flight schools to create this monster.
11/29/2019 11:49:54 am
Good article. You should always be allowed to choose your DPE.
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