The FAA announced last week that pilots who had taken a checkride with one of its employees, Michael Puehler, who worked for the Cincinnati Flight Standards District Office, would need to be retested. The FAA isn’t being very forthcoming on the details. What is said in an internal document is that based on an FAA internal investigation, it “has reason to believe” that their employee, Puehler, “issued certificates and/or ratings to airmen when the airmen did not demonstrate the qualifications to hold the certificate or rating for which they were tested.” The reasoning, the document went on to say, is that the competence of the pilots tested by Puehler was in question, so they would have to be retested. Those affected got signed off by Puehler between around 2008 and 2019, an 11-year period. They’re not saying how many pilots this affects. But they will be sending letters out to all of them.
As absurd as this might seem to you, and it seems that way to us, the FAA is not joking, and so we pilots had better take them seriously. AOPA has warned affected pilots that the retest they’re facing is for real and they had better prepare for it, including practicing and studying for it. For many pilots, let’s say with an Instrument Rating they have let get rusty for a few years, what that means in essence is studying up from close to scratch for a new checkride the FAA says you need because it thinks your previous checkride might have been bogus. You know, the one conducted by their employee whom they failed to properly supervise for at least 11 years.
Did those pilots perform badly on their checkrides with Puehler? The FAA says that, well, it has some reason to believe they might have. Do they know this for a fact? They don’t. And for that vague, broad and unsubstantiated suspicion, they’re going to require a retest?
How much will that cost? In the case of, let’s say, a commercial certificate, it could be a few thousand dollars in airplane rental and instructor fees in the process. The checkride, given by the FAA, won’t cost anything additional, but that’s small solace.
Moreover, each one of these pilots will face what commercial pilots call a “jeopardy event,” that is, a ride in which their ticket could be at risk. That’s part of being a professional pilot. But then again, they fly a lot, so they stay in practice, they get line tested regularly, have their performance monitored and take a recurrency ride ever six months. So for them, even though they’d be prepared, they’d still be facing a jeopardy event. That’s not fair.
For the rest of us it’s even less fair than that. I got my commercial ticket in the late ’90s. While I’ve maintained a high degree of proficiency, including taking on a type rating in a jet and a seaplane rating to boot, remember that my general proficiency isn’t what’s at question. It’s how I would perform on the PTS. And how many times have I practiced chandelles, lazy eights and eights around a pylon since then? Zero. And I’m not alone. Practical flight tests for many certificates and ratings don’t resemble real-world flying. But pilots getting retested won’t be retested on how proficient they are at real-world flying. No, it’s going to be lazy eights and all that all over again.
We’re stunned at the FAA’s arrogance in issuing this ruling. Because of its suspicion that one of their employees whom they failed to adequately supervise might not have done a first-rate job on some checkrides, they’re going to retest many hundreds of pilots, costing many of the many of thousands of dollars to prepare for. Moreover, they present zero evidence that the unacceptable performance of their employee in issuing those tickets has an ounce of ill effect on flight safety.
And the saddest part is this: They’re perfectly within their rights to do every bit of it, and it’s doing so with a level of arrogance that’s very sadly characteristic of business as usual for them.