SAFE Asks 'Systemic Change' For DPE Program

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Pivotal Flight Training Organization Notes That Recent Termination Illustrates Need for Improvement

The Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE) tells ANN that the recent termination of a popular DPE by the San Antonio FSDO has highlighted common questions about FAA management in the DPE program nationwide, and SAFE is asking the FAA to study and implement systemic improvements.

An FAA Examiner designation is a one-sided arrangement favoring the FAA. The designation is, in the FAA’s words, a “privilege not a right” and may be terminated at any time with or without cause, which makes many DPEs uncomfortable and inhibits the participation of many otherwise qualified aviation professionals. Despite these terms, the FAA has recently increased available DPEs nationwide from 800 to over 1000 and eliminated geographic boundaries; positive change is happening.

“The Designated Pilot Examiners are the FAA’s direct connection to the GA community,” said SAFE Communications Director Kevin D Murphy.

“They are the gatekeepers who make sure that aspiring pilots have the essential skills, knowledge, and judgment to operate safely in the National Airspace System. But DPEs are also mentors to aviation educators who are training pilots, many of whom go on to become the airline officers and captains of the future. DPEs are truly the “face” of the local FAA office. DPEs voluntarily present safety programs for the FAA, appear at fly-ins, seminars, and events where they are role models for the community. They are the heart of the FAA safety culture.”

SAFE directly addressed the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) on DPE reform at its mid-December meeting.

“The availability of good DPEs is one of the biggest roadblocks for growth in the entire flight training industry,” SAFE told the FAA committee. SAFE is advocating more transparent, high-level oversight and review, especially in cases like Ken Wittekiend where a successful and popular DPE who generously serves the local pilot community is suddenly terminated. A locally produced YouTube presents a defense of WIttekiend and raises important issues from the local pilot community. Again, perception is as powerful as fact in many of these cases, and a better system needs to be in place.

In a recent public comment, FAA Branch Manager Jay Kitchens promised “increased involvement at the national level with review and consideration of any DPE termination efforts to allow for an outside review that goes beyond just a local FAA office staff.”

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