Fix the DPE Problem? Start Here!

Our aviation industry is once again trying to solve the persistent “DPE problem.” The highly-publicized FAA ARAC has considered this issue for over a year and generated a report with many good recommendations. There is even a “DPE Symposium” being marketed to potential DPEs to “fix the DPE problem,” like some airline hiring job fair. The central problem is, however, so obvious that everyone is missing it entirely. (And this is only my personal opinion and does not represent my designation as an FAA DPE – every designee represents the FAA administrator in public).

To become a DPE or renew your designation, every examiner is required to sign a remarkably one-sided agreement with the FAA. The DPE process, as well as the daily job, is completely colored by this legal contract. It basically states that every designee is potentially temporary and can be legally removed,  immediately and capriciously, for absolutely no stated reason or cause. This contract is obviously designed to protect the FAA from bad actors without excessive legal costs but offers no trust and security for the DPE.  Instead, it poisons the designation relationship and discourages many qualified individuals from applying. Every DPE serves entirely at the pleasure of their local FSDO and the ax can fall at any time for no reason at all: done – gone, thank you, and goodbye (this is clearly stated and agreed to by every DPE in the guidance)! To be designated or renewed as a DPE, this is (among other things) the required statement in the application:

It is hard to believe that good-hearted, committed professionals would sign onto a “job” where the terms of engagement are so capricious and one-sided (it is technically not “employment” but contract work that often becomes a DPE’s sole income – a problem in itself). What kind of people would be attracted to this kind of contract or career? The FAA obviously did not engage the HR department here; “if you want this ‘job,’ these are the terms.” Yes, it is an honor to serve the FAA as a DPE, but a contract like this is a huge disincentive to attracting committed, compassionate professionals.

There is a huge scarcity of qualified DPEs right now. But every qualified aviation professional I have approached about becoming a DPE cites the horror stories of DPE termination and the “political nature of the job” as primary reasons for not getting involved; there is no trust and security in the system for DPEs. How can a competent, lifetime aviation professional be serious about this occupation, if it literally can go away in a day with a notification from the local FSDO? And if DPEs, are basically treated as temp. workers, how can they be expected to conduct their business professionally and honorably while serving the FAA?  We need to attract committed, compassionate professionals who focus on putting the applicant in a positive testing environment if we are going to grow aviation.  To “fix the DPE problem,” this “employment agreement” should definitely be the primary and immediate focus for positive change. Fly safely out there (and often).


Thanks to everyone that was able to attend #OSH21 and visit our SAFE booth – or attend our amazing “SAFE Gathering!” What a wonderful experience after a year of quarantine. Tune-up your flying chops and join SAFE for more resources and savings (most members save MORE than they pay in dues). Our SAFE Toolkit app is free and brings ideas and tools to your daily flying: “Mastery not Minimums!”

About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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