A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from the FAA, sent via Certified Mail, inviting me to participate in a re-examination of my qualifications to hold a pilot's certificate. The re-examination would focus (logically enough) on taxiing and ground operations. I had 10 days to get back to them to schedule the event.
This sort of re-examination is conducted under authority granted to the Administrator by 49 USC 44709(a), which says:
Reinspection and Reexamination — The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may reinspect at any time a civil aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance, design organization, production certificate holder, air navigation facility, or air agency, or reexamine an airman holding a certificate issued under section 44703 of this title.
The re-examination is usually referred to as "a '709 ride" (from the referenced USC section). In my case, since we would only be dealing with ground operations, it would be more like a '709 drive.
I called Dean at his office at the Windsor Locks Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), located at Bradley International Airport (KBDL). After a couple of false starts related to our conflicting schedules we agreed that N631S and I would meet him today at the Hartford-Brainard airport (KHFD). We'd talk for a while, then I'd taxi around a bit while he watched. He'd be evaluating my competence based on the relevant sections of the Practical Test Standard for Private Pilots.
The morning dawned clear but quite breezy. I took a look at the winds at Brainard and was less than thrilled with what I saw:
KHFD 211353Z 29013G23KT 10SM CLR M02/M13 A2992 RMK AO2 SLP131 T10221128The runway at KHFD is oriented 2 - 20, so a wind from 290 is a direct crosswind. At 13 knots gusting to 23 it was fairly sporty already and I suspected that it could easily get more intense as the day went on. I sent Dean an e-mail saying I looked forward to meeting him and commenting on the winds. Very shortly, he called me and asked if I'd like to meet instead at Bradley (KBDL). Bradley has a Runway 33 that would make the wind perfectly manageable so I accepted immediately.
N631S and I departed Sikorsky Memorial (KBDR) at about noon and had a bumpy forty minute flight up to KBDL. Bradley Approach sequenced us into Runway 33 behind a Delta MD-80. The wind was 31020G26KT, and did not present any problem.
I parked on the ramp at the FSDO and announced myself. Dean came down to collect me and escorted me to a conference room. We sat and talked about my incident and about risk-management in ground operations (a subject to which I have given considerable thought of late). He focused strongly on avoidance of runway incursions still clearly an FAA 'hot button'. While this was going on, one of Dean's colleagues went out and ramp-checked N631S. He joined us and said the only question he had concerned the cable connecting the portable Garmin gps396 with the panel-mounted GNS-530W. It supplies both 5.0v power and flight-plan data to the portable and he wants to see the log entry supporting the installation. Of course, the airplane's logs are home in Virginia so I am on the hook to dig out the pertinent page and send it to Dean.
After about 45 minutes, Dean said, "OK, let's go out and taxi around."
We went out to N631S, started the engine, and taxied over to the Tac-Air FBO ramp. There, we went through the motions of parking. Dean indicated a few spots and said "Would you park there?" or "Could you pull straight in to that spot", or "How could we best get to that spot over there?". I said 'Yes' or 'No' or 'NO WAY!' in what seem to have been all the right places and after about 15 minutes we taxied back to the FSDO ramp. Dean said he'd send me a letter next week attesting to my competence and continued qualification to hold a Private Pilot's Certificate and I was free to go. N631S and I had a somewhat bumpy but really quick flight back to Bridgeport and it was done.
I can't say it was a pleasure, but the experience was minimally painful. Dean, the FAA Inspector, was cordial and totally professional at every turn. I know all of the jokes about the FAA but none of them applied here. I drew one of the "good guys".