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How unprepared students reduce checkride capacity by taking booking slots

There are lots of reasons a designated pilot examiner may have to tell a practical test applicant, “Sorry, I am not able to give you the test today.” Most reasons come down to administrative requirements not being completed correctly or missing pilot experience requirements.

It isn’t just about DPEs maximizing their revenue when scheduling as many tests as possible. DPEs have limited time and ability to schedule events and every time an applicant cancels at the last minute or is ineligible for a test, a potential testing slot is wasted. This means that someone who might have been ready to use that slot didn’t get the opportunity and the DPE still must accommodate a slot for the person who needs to be rescheduled. Wasting slots means the overall capacity of the DPE testing system is reduced and the backlog of testing gets worse.

There are a few things that flight instructors can do to improve the odds that a DPE will be able to conduct a practical test as scheduled and make the best use of all the industry resources to keep the flow of practical tests moving.

Let’s start with a simple one that too frequently falls by the wayside.

Communication about readiness

Many DPEs will schedule applicants further out in anticipation that they will be ready. Good communication sooner rather than later by the CFI if a scheduled event is not going to work or needs to be pushed back in the schedule allows a DPE to a slot with someone else. Otherwise, that is an appointment slot wasted when the DPE finds out at the last minute that the applicant will be unable to complete a scheduled practical test.

CFIs can take the initiative to “mother hen” their students a little bit as we get close to the test and communicate with the DPE, or prod the student to do so directly. This means that the CFI must know when the applicant is scheduled to take a test and that they monitor the training progress.

Talk to the DPEs. We are more than happy to discuss options and progress for scheduled events. Most of us even like talking with other pilots and CFIs. The relationship between a CFI and the DPE is important and will help you as a flight instructor get practical tests completed for your students.

Stage check/folder audit

Practical test applicants frequently show up at tests with missing training requirements or missing documentation of their training. Common missing items include endorsements and logs of ground training for certificates.

Many larger training providers have very formalized “folder audits” in which they verify students’ training records and experience are met for a certificate or rating. In many cases, a student is not allowed to schedule a practical test until this verification of eligibility process has been conducted.

Even if you are in a smaller training operation or even a CFI working independently, you can still do this.

Schedule a time to sit down with your student, and perhaps a checklist for the intended certificate or rating, and go through the student’s documentation. This might take a couple of hours of logbook auditing, making sure ground training was logged in some manner (even a spreadsheet, word processor document, or a stack of emails an instructor sends to a student each time they conduct ground could work; or a list in a logbook if available) that covers all the required material and finalizing all the endorsements needed for the upcoming practical test. Taking the time to make sure all these are completed, and dedicating the time to do so in a constructive manner that isn’t rushed, makes it far less likely something will be missing on the day of the test.

Send training documentation before the event

Most DPEs have entered the twenty-first century and can receive emails and text messages. Many savvy instructors send examiners pictures, scans, or PDFs of the training documents they will be using to document their student’s ability to meet requirements. As a DPE, getting this ahead of time is very helpful.

Sending documents in advance allows a DPE to review the information, and if a potential hiccup exists, address it with the student or instructor. Having the opportunity to solve any paperwork or experience documentation challenges earlier than at the time of the test might mean a test can proceed as scheduled instead of needing to be rescheduled.

Double booking DPEs

For many of you reading this, this practice may seem like an obvious no-no. But it happens a lot.

I am going to generalize here and say that DPEs see it more frequently with younger and newer CFIs who are just booking DPE slots for their students wherever they can. In too many cases, a DPE checks in with a scheduled applicant the day before only to find out that they completed the test with someone else. Frequently this leaves the examiner unable to fill the slot on short notice (sometimes because of administrative notification requirements) and it reduces the completion ability for practical tests in the system.

If this isn’t something you have ever done, thank you! But that doesn’t mean we don’t need your help in curbing this practice. Be a positive mentor in the industry and make sure other instructors you work with or manage are not doing this either.

Let’s take this as a challenge as flight training providers to make sure that we are maximizing the utility of DPEs available time in our system. The fewer short notice cancellations and tests that are unable to proceed due to missing documentation or experience requirements that DPEs experience, the more tests the system will be able to complete. This will shorten testing backlogs for all testing applicants and flight training providers. Oh, and while it should go without saying, making sure those students are ready to pass helps too.