• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
Helicopter Flight Training Sponsors


DPE Refresh: The FAA’s SEED Program at Work

Posted 6 years 221 days ago ago by Randy Rowles

Did you recently take an examination facilitated by a FAA-appointed Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE)? If so, the FAA may have recently contacted you to take a survey regarding your practical test experience. This survey is part of an emphasis program by the FAA Designee Quality Assurance Branch, AFS-650. This program interviews recent applicants tested by a DPE, and also observes the DPE conducting an actual practical test. The purpose is to observe the DPE, not the applicant. This FAA program is known as Special Emphasis Evaluation Designee Inspection (SEED).

Why the sudden attention on the DPE pool? It’s an effort to improve the training and evaluation standards of those that wish to obtain FAA pilot certification. The FAA realizes that although the Practical Test Standards (PTS) reflect objective standards, the exam itself is administered by an individual, which imparts certain subjectivity to the standard. In cases where a DPE imparts a subjective determination contrary to a regulation or PTS element, the FAA will take action to include DPE termination, re-examination of applicants, and in severe cases, legal action against the examiner.

One such case is former DPE Edward Lane of the Las Vegas area. A SEED inspector found cause to formerly investigate examinations conducted by the DPE over a multi-year period. As a result, the FAA determined that all of the applicants would be re-examined. (For more information on this case, read FAA Notice N8900.194.) It is important to note the FAA is looking at more than just DPEs. In a similar October 2011 case, former FAA Inspector Harrington Bishop plead guilty to accepting illegal bribes for hundreds of unauthorized pilot examinations he had conducted. He went to prison.

As a longtime DPE, I fully support the FAA in this initiative. Only a few months ago, our FSDO directed all DPEs to provide surveys to five applicants examined for an FAA certificate or rating. The questions were aligned with the activity expected of a DPE in the PTS and as outlined in FAA Order 8900.2. I provided the next five applicants with the survey immediately upon completion of the exam. Of those examined, three of the applicants were found “unsatisfactory” during the exam. After a review of the surveys, I was pleased to find that each applicant, although disappointed in the outcome, was in agreement with the decision and found the exam to be comprehensive and fair. You can’t ask for more than that!

The SEED program has resulted in a decline in the total number of examiners within the DPE pool. Prior to the program, there were more than 1,200 DPEs within the FAA. Today, roughly 850 DPEs remain in service. This decline is in some cases due to a lack of urgency to find replacement DPEs by the FAA. However, the collateral damage from the bad behavior of a few may well cause checkride backlogs.

So remember, if your DPE selection is based upon finding an examiner that gives checkrides resembling that of a Christmas morning from your childhood memories, you may want to look elsewhere. The result may be a not so merry Christmas!   

About Randy: Randy Rowles has been a FAA pilot examiner for 20 years for all helicopter certificates and ratings. He holds a FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor Certificate, NAFI Master Flight Instructor designation, and was the 2013 recipient of the HAI Flight Instructor of the Year Award.  Randy is currently  Director of Training at Epic Helicopters in Ft. Worth, Texas.