As of Oct. 1, 2015, all Designated Mechanic Examiners (DMEs) are required to test applicants using the new FAA downloader system. The downloader system is the DME planning sheet where the FAA computer picks the seven oral questions in each element and also selects which of the 22 practical projects an A&P applicant must pass on the first try.
I have tested several applicants both part 147 aviation school applicants and part 65 applicants based on work experience. Many people ask me what the difference is in the new procedures verse the old procedure. Basically there is no difference the oral questions are still the same except the new planning sheet only provides seven questions for each element. The applicant still has to answer 70% right on the oral to pass or 3 out of 4 questions or 5 out of 7. So the oral test has not changed much same as the old test except the application must be signed now as an official document for certification. Your DME now may ask you to explain your answer so just memorizing questions and answer may not be enough, remember this is a knowledge test. In addition your DME may ask a follow-up question to see if you really know the material or just memorized a answer.
What has changed is the practical test a little, it is still based on the new Practical Test Standard (PTS) available for download from the FAA web site. There is a possible 862 possible projects and the FAA computer will pick 22 projects for each applicant to perform. This is a change the FAA now picks which projects the applicant must perform and pass the first time at the basic level. The second change is if an applicant fails a project in a section the entire section must be retaken over. There are 5 sections on the exam General section 1, Airframe section 1 and 2, Engine section 4 and 5 all at the basic level.
What has changed is the DME can no longer can pick projects that fits the applicant’s background as under the old procedures, so in respects this has leveled the testing field. Another change is if an applicant fails a project they can go to any DME to retest. The new DME will download a new retest for the applicant from the FAA data base and the projects they failed must be repeated along with all the other projects the FAA computer system selects in that section.
So I keep being asked is the test harder now. No I don’t think so if an applicant is well prepared. As an example I had a mechanic recently test with me and the FAA pick a compression test as one of the engine projects. This applicant had never performed an engine compression test before. I provided the applicant with all the required data including an unmarked copy of AC 43.13-1B that covers the compression test. As a safety precaution I walked the applicant through top dead center and explained that when air is introduced into the cylinder the propeller will want to rotate (be careful). I then rotated the propeller several times so the applicant had to find top dead center on compression stroke and hookup the equipment following the instructions in AC 43.13-1B. The applicant read the instructions, ask a couple questions, but figured out what restrictor he needed and tested a given cylinder and recorded his results. The applicant passed this project only because he read the data, asked the proper questions, and performed the test under my observation to reduce the risk to the 70% required. Keep in mind applicants will make some errors, but following directions step-by-step is a must as in this case.
All of the projects are similar the applicants are given the proper data, tooling and equipment the project is explained, and the applicant then performs the project under observation. In my case I provide the applicant with a separate project sheet for each project that lists the data, tool and equipment, objective and outcome, but that is how I do it each DME may be different.
Some of the projects may take a few minutes to perform and others like a compression test will take longer. This is the applicants test so I let them take their time within reason. If an applicant cannot figure out how to hook up the leads on an ohm meter with the instructions there is a problem.
What I have noticed with the testing is if an applicant is well prepared such as most of the applicants the practical test can be completed in about 5 to 6-hours sometimes a lot longer. It does not take long to know if an applicant is prepared and if an applicant fails an element in a section on the practical the DME can stop that section of the test and go to another section.
I have noticed most part 65 applicants signed off to test based on hands on work experience seem to do well on the practical. Most of these applicant have invested a lot of time and money and failure is not an option. However, on the other hand some of the part 147 applicants have a totally different mindset about testing. I have noticed two type of part 147 school applicants those that are go getters and those that just barely pass the school program and curriculum.
As a DME we are the gate keepers for the aviation industry and to allow an applicant to pass without the full knowledge and skill it takes to be an A&P mechanic is a huge safety responsibility for us. If an applicant fails the oral and practical it is because they failed themselves. As a DME I do not fail anyone I am the score keeper in many ways making a judgment call pass or fail. There are no Gray Area’s in aviation maintenance as mechanic’s we make this call everyday airworthy or not airworthy. As a DME we make the same call with the applicants pass or fail is the only options we have on a test.
For any applicant my recommendation is to be fully prepared to test. Download the FAA Practical Test Standard and go over each element and do not rule out studying wood, fabric, basic physics, and record entries both part 43.9 maintenance and 43.11 inspection. These area’s seem to give applicants a difficult time from my recent experience, but are area’s that all applicants must pass.
In my opinion the new downloader system is much better than the old system. The oral questions match the practical projects in many ways. All of us DMEs are required to have similar tools and equipment so the projects are accomplished similar. In addition, with the new revised part 147 changes coming I am confident the process can only get better.
If you have any questions about the new process please contact me and I will do my best to answer your questions.