Five Tips for DPEs to Provide Better Customer Service

Pilots for whom DPEs conduct practical tests aren’t just applicants, they are also customers. As a DPE, there are many things that can be done to help improve the practical test experience, allay some concerns, and enhance the professionalism of the experience.

There are certainly many that could be included, but here are five quick things on which a DPE might focus some additional attention in their practical test scheduling and conduct processes if they haven’t already.

Be Punctual and Communicate Professionally

A many times shared adage is “to be early is to be on time, to be on time, is to be late, and to be late, is unacceptable.” As a DPE, make sure you have enough time to get to where the practical test will be conducted, and leave time enough time between tests to get to a second or third activity in the same day if you have them scheduled. If you are going to be running behind, communicate that with the applicant. Having mobile phone numbers or even email addresses for your applicants allows you to communicate with them either via phone, text, or email if necessary should any scheduling hiccups happen, and they will. People get it, but it is much more professional to communicate this with the applicant than to just leave them hanging around the airport “wondering if their examiner is going to show up.” Its also a good idea to have the contact information for the instructor who is signing the student off for the practical test.

Hold or Schedule Times for Retests and Reschedules

Not everyone is going to pass, and not every day is going to be good weather. DPEs typically have a good idea of their pass rates and the weather phenomena in their local area. If you plan on having 5 workable days in a week, with two practical tests per day, that means there are 10 available “slots”. A savvy examiner might schedule 7 of those slots with initial tests, and leave 3 of them for retests or reschedules for weather delays. Having available slots for these activities doesn’t leave an applicant waiting weeks to get their retest or reschedule when they were ready. Sure, a retest might need to wait a week, or get some additional training, but it shouldn’t be impossible to schedule with the examiner for a month or more. Plan ahead to offer good timing service to your applicants.

Offer and Be Able to Issue Receipts

You would expect to get a receipt for a purchase at most stores where you purchase something, why would it be abnormal for your customer to expect you to offer one?

Many pilot applicants who are training for professional reasons, or even if just for personal reasons, may want a receipt for the services a DPE provides for their own records.

You don’t have to get super complicated here. I personally created a pdf file that I can fill in with the applicant’s name, the type of test given, the price, and the date administered that I then email to the applicant if they want a copy. I always offer one even though many applicants will decline, willing to accept a cancelled check (if they pay via check) as sufficient or not caring at all. At least offer and have the ability to provide a receipt of some sort to your customers.

It could be as simple as emailing the applicant, “Please consider this email receipt for the private pilot single-engine airplane practical test for $(price) on (date).”

It’s a little thing, but it does offer the customer a tracking. And it also allays the claim that many make that, DPEs only want cash “so they don’t have to tell the IRS”. Even though we all know that its pretty unlikely that the federally tracked activity we all do when conducting practical tests was even hideable anyway.

Take Credit/Debit Cards

If you are only accepting cash for your practical tests, it’s time to join the 21st Century. Many DPEs don’t like to take checks, and that I get. They may bounce, they may be invalid, and if there is a problem, finding the applicant again can be a challenge. Cash is hard to argue with. But credit and debit cards are pretty darn easy to accept and offer immediate verification of funds also.

Mobile phones or tablet devices can be connected by cord or bluetooth connectivity to devices that allow swiping, touching, or wireless communication with credit and debit cards your applicants may choose to use for payment. While most of these do take a small percentage of the total payment, typically less than 3%, the benefits can be worth it. Immediate payment verification is conducted and the payments are normally deposited the same day into a bank account associated with the transaction account. It saves you the trip to the bank!

This eliminates the need for an applicant to “hit up multiple ATMs” or go to a bank to “gather the cash” they need to pay a DPE for their services. Get yourself set up on something like or Intuit’s mobile payment services and start taking those cards. Let your customers know that it is an option ahead of time. I can honestly say I have had applicants tell me they chose to use me because I accepted payment via “card” instead of requiring them to gather that wad of cash.

Want to get more creative? I and some other DPEs I know also accept payment services such as PayPal, Venmo, and others. Join the modern world and check some of them out tso that you can offer your customers more options for paying you for your services. As a side note, most, if not all, of these digital payment serivces also offer receipts. And that solves the above recommendation also.

Give FAA Wings Credit

It sounds silly, but when your applicant passes, offer to give them FAA Wings Credit!

As DPEs, hopefully, we are all familiar with the FAA Safety Team and the Wings Program. Many of our applicants may have heard something about this, but too many are not enrolled or getting credit for their activities. Take a few extra minutes at the end of a successful practical test to give credit, or even if possible, help them enroll to get credit. Most practical tests are easily eligible for FAA Wings Credit.

Part of our job is to help promote FAA programs and safety, the FAA Safety Program is a great way to do that and offer additional added value to our practical test customers. If you aren’t involved in the program as a DPE, now is a good time to get started.

These all may seem like common sense or obvious practices to some DPEs reading this, but the honest truth is that they aren’t for all DPEs. Some DPEs do some of these things, but few do all. As we all work to provide testing services that meet the FAA requirements, we also work to provide a good customer service experience to our applicants.

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About Jason Blair

Jason Blair is an active single and multiengine instructor and an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 6,000 hours total time, over 3,000 hours of instruction given, and more than 3000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. In his role as Examiner, over 2,000 pilot certificates have been issued. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations with the work focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes over 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.

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