I'm almost ready for my private pilot checkride, and it seems to me there is a perverse incentive for DPEs in passing or failing people.

If a DPE makes additional money on re-checks for students who fail the checkride, then it seems to me that DPEs have have a strong financial incentive to fail people the first time so that they can collect additional fees on the re-test. In fact, it seems that there are no rules in place to stop a DPE from making a student do the checkride 4, 5, or 6 times and collecting additional money from the student every time.

The checkride fee is exorbitant ($900 here in Southern California), but I'm even more concerned that the DPE would be hoping to fail me so they could collect extra money from me on a re-check. It actually makes my blood boil just thinking about it.

I'm not saying that DPEs are bad people, but the incentive structure certainly seems to make it easy for them to exploit eager students, and if economics has taught us anything, it has taught us that people respond to incentives.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Flight instructors get punished for failed DPE/checkrides, by extension the DPE's want to work with FI's to get more business, so failing a checkride too many times hurts the FI and hurts the DPE's references. 3 failed checkrides often results in a "709" ride for the CFI, and a bench until they can pass it. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Mar 4, 2020 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Av.SE. Any DPE that gets that reputation won't be giving many checkrides at all, before very long! As Ron Beyer describes, the CFI's would have a strong incentive to warn students away from the DPE who's likely to fail you for the sorts of reasons that you describe. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Mar 4, 2020 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer: Can you turn it into an answer please? A link+quote would be great too, since the question seems subjective. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Mar 4, 2020 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ @ymb1, don't you like my answer?! ;) $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2020 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ What does DPE stand for? $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Mar 9, 2020 at 6:51

1 Answer 1


I think you are getting worked up about something that isn't a problem. DPEs are incentivized to develop a professional reputation that upholds appropriate standards, while passing those who meet the standard. Someone who is motivated by greed to fail students as you suggest would quickly get a bad reputation and people would simply stop scheduling check rides with him/her, so the plan would rapidly backfire.

Think about it, I could easily make the opposite case that I am concerned about safety because a DPE motivated by the desire to get a reputation of passing people the first time to increase his/her business could be tempted to compromise on the standards. It should all balance out in the end.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Giving weight to your second paragraph, in 1994/1995 DOT determined that DPEs were passing 90% of applicants on unobserved checkrides and 70% of applicants on observed rides. Page 10 of the document, PDF page 15. When you are on your checkride, everyone involved wants you to pass. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Mar 5, 2020 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveV. On the other hand, DPEs whose pass rate is higher than 90% are supposed to be "flagged" (your PDF page 2). So I guess someone could be the unlucky guy where the DPE "needs to fail somebody" to have a quiet life! $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Mar 5, 2020 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero - If someone is in the bottom 10% of applicants that a DPE has seen lately I struggle to call that "unlucky", but I take your point. :) $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Mar 5, 2020 at 14:18

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