FAA Ramp Checks – Know Your Rights
Earlier this week I witnessed something not all that common in general aviation – an FAA Ramp Check. If you’ve never heard of a ramp check, that’s not surprising as again, it’s not a common occurrence in general aviation. But at the same time, while not the most pleasant topic related to your flying, it’s important to know what a ramp check entails and more importantly, to know how to properly manage a ramp check.
It’s also important to know exactly what will be expected of the pilot as well what to expect from the FAA. So while many pilots will fly a lifetime and not experience a ramp check, it’s something that we’re all subject to as pilots. It could happen anywhere at anytime and is officially an investigation of your own flight operation.
By definition, a ramp check is surveillance of an airman, operator, or air agency during actual operations at an airport or heliport. It’s conducted by FAA to ensure that you are conducting flights safely and in compliance with regulations. Although generally friendly and straightforward, some result in counseling or correction letters and in the worst case scenario, enforcement actions against the pilot.
A ramp check may occur when an inspector observes unsafe operations in a traffic pattern or ramp area or is notified by ATC of an unsafe operation. They can also occur randomly as part of FAA’s normal surveillance. The latter is what is typical of most non-commercial ramp checks.
A typical check will involve an inspection of the pilot’s airman and medical certificates as well as photo identification, aircraft documents and a walk-around inspection. The inspector is NOT authorized to board the aircraft without permission, but is able to look through open doors or windows.
If you’re a Student, Sport or Recreational pilot required to carry evidence of logbook endorsement, the inspector will also review this information. The inspector may use a job-aid which is a good thing as it means a standardized check. While few pilots would enjoy such an experience, a positive and diplomatic attitude is generally helpful.
Related to aircraft documents, the inspector will want to review the Airworthiness Certificate to ensure it’s visible, on-board and matches the aircraft’s tail number. The registration certificate should also match the aircraft tail number and inspectors are now examining registration expiration dates since all registrations must be renewed. The POH must also be on-bard to ensure the pilot has access to the aircraft’s limitations as well as required markings and placards. Current weight and balance information for the aircraft may also be reviewed.
In the unlikely event that a discrepancy is found, it must be noted on the job aid and discussed with the operator. The inspection continues unless a discrepancy is discovered that would affect safety or result in a violation of an FAR. If this were to occur, an FAA Condition Notice (8620-1) may be issued. Discrepancies concerning airworthiness or registration certificates will also be brought to the attention of the operator, documented and referred for any follow-up action.
Recommendations if you’re subject of a ramp check – be courteous and cooperative. Also be busy. Inspectors are not authorized to delay a flight; however, most are very respectful of this requirement and will likely only request a check at the conclusion of a flight.
Do not volunteer more information than what is required. Remember, no matter how “friendly” this process may appear, anything you say or do may be used against you. And finally, keep in an easily referenced location at least the following information: Medical, Pilot Certificate & Photo ID / Airworthiness / Registration / Flight Manual / Weight and Balance Data.
If you’re curious, the ramp inspection I witnessed took place right here at Sporty’s Academy. It was part of FAA’s random surveillance. Two inspectors arrived on-site and in a very courteous manner, simply stated they were there to conduct a single inspection of a training flight conducted under FAA Part 141. The inspectors patiently waited for a flight to return meeting those requirements and used the opportunity to educate both the student and instructor on what occurs as part of a ramp check. In this instance, it was indeed positive and educational. No discrepancies were noted and the entire process took less than 5 minutes.
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