The FAA published detailed responses to a dozen reforms designed to improve the availability of pilot practical tests, noting some of the measures recommended in June 2021 are already in progress.
The FAA’s response to the 2021 recommendations issued by the Designated Pilot Examiner Reforms Working Group is the culmination of a 2018 FAA reauthorization tasking that directed the FAA to establish a working group to “provide advice and recommendations" on the most effective ways to identify areas needed to ensure adequate numbers of DPEs are deployed to meet the growing public need.
The FAA also concurred with a related recommendation to develop standardized tools to enhance efficiency and accuracy, and to solicit feedback directly from DPEs, as well as the flight schools and pilots who hire them.
“The FAA agrees that a survey system, possibly integrated with [the Designee Management System], would be beneficial to it as a supplement to interviewing recently tested airmen. Implementation of such a system will require both internal and external coordination and funding approval for additional resources,” the agency wrote.
In a national survey administered to DPEs and flight schools by Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), published within days of the FAA issuing its responses to the working group, implementation of regular surveys stood out as one of the working group recommendations broadly supported by the pilot community, with favorable views expressed by 91 percent of DPEs and 95 percent of flight schools. However, the survey found that perceptions varied between DPEs and the flight training community on some recommendations, among them whether there are enough DPEs to meet the demand. On this question, 55 percent of DPEs nationwide believe there are too few DPEs, while 92 percent of flight school respondents held this view (the remaining 8 percent reported there is currently “the right number” of DPEs nationwide).
The working group (which included AOPA) also sought various measures to increase the availability of DPEs, including allowing examiners to qualify using BasicMed. The FAA agreed “in principle that examiners should only be required to obtain the level of medical eligibility necessary to act as Pilot-In-Command (PIC) for the operation being conducted during a practical test,” though the agency noted that current regulations will require revision via rulemaking to achieve this. The MTSU survey also indicated broad support from both DPEs and flight schools (79 percent and 81 percent, respectively) to conduct checkrides under the provisions of BasicMed.
In another recommendation that intended to improve the availability of DPEs, the FAA supported the concept of establishing a national oversight structure “aimed at increasing standardization, consistency, communication, and resource placement among individual designees.” AOPA Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs Christopher Cooper explained the intent to implement a more centralized process is to ensure adequate numbers of standardized and experienced examiners are deployed across the United States to meet the increasing demand for examinations, while also ensuring flight standards district offices have the appropriate tools for consistent selection, training, and oversight of designees.
“For several years, the pilot community has voiced consistent concerns with the lack of availability of examiners across the country,” Cooper said. “Although some programs have provided relief, such as the removal of geographical boundaries, designee availability continues to be a challenge. To ensure the future growth of the pilot population, especially with increased demand for flight training, additional reform is needed to ensure an adequate number of designees are available. AOPA appreciates the FAA’s consideration and response to the working group’s recommendations, and we remain committed to working with the FAA and pilot community to implement these urgently needed improvements as soon as possible.”
Cooper also extended his appreciation to the MTSU staff for conducting the DPE and flight school stakeholder survey on the perceptions of the working group’s recommendations to provide current data that will help improve the DPE system.