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Ramp Check Etiquette

Ramp checks, I am told, are just another way the Federal Aviation Administration enforces safety. It is not, however, something that inspectors do to make new friends. It is not the worst thing that can happen to you as you go forward in flight across our beautiful land but if you fly far enough and long enough, you will likely encounter one. When that day comes, this ramp check survival guide may help make the experience an ... enjoyable ... one.

An FAA ramp check can be a safety check and an informal meeting ... or not!

Ramp checks, I am told, are just another way the Federal Aviation Administration enforces safety. It is not, however, something that inspectors do to make new friends. It is not the worst thing that can happen to you as you go forward in flight across our beautiful land but if you fly far enough and long enough, you will likely encounter one. When that day comes, this ramp check survival guide may help make the experience an ... enjoyable ... one.

WHAT TO HAVE...
The documents required for inspections are supposed to be on board at all times anyway.

  • CHART (for the area you find yourself in -- make sure it's current)
  • AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE (seems you'd want to have that)
  • RADIO LICENSE (only for travel outside the United States and for some commercial operations)
  • REGISTRATION
  • OPERATING LIMITATIONS
  • WEIGHT AND BALANCE

Remember: CH.-A.R.R.O.W.

RELAX: If you're a licensed pilot, you've already survived your first ramp check. Private Pilot Practical Test Standards states the applicant must exhibit knowledge of the aircraft documents by "locating and explaining the importance of each of them."

...AND WHAT TO DO

  1. Attitude: Be cool, be confident, don't panic, be polite and cooperative. It's quicker. There is absolutely no way that having a smart attitude is going to make this meeting go any better for either side. You are a pilot and so is the inspector. Let's act like the cool professionals we are all supposed to be.
  2. Identification: Verify that this person is an FAA inspector and that they have the authority to check you and your aircraft. This should be addressed at the very beginning. I would be reluctant to answer a bunch of questions from a stranger and, in fact, would probably call the local FAA FSDO or 1-800-GA-SECURE and report this individual if they could not produce proper and immediate identification.
  3. Witnesses: If possible, get a witness or two to watch the entire procedure. The inspector is unlikely to complain. Besides, it will protect both sides in the case that things don't run quite as smoothly as either side would like. It will also give another pilot a chance to see how this type of inspection is conducted -- they will be better prepared in case they are next in line.
  4. Ask Questions: Ask why the ramp check is being conducted, why you were selected, and what they will be looking for. Be curious, not combative. Are they following some new guidelines or just passing through and checking to see if you know (and abide by) the rules?
  5. Warrant: They don't need one. Nor do they need any other special paperwork. It's a safety check, remember, protected by regulation and well known by you and everyone else in aviation. Your defense is not to look for a quick escape loophole, it's being prepared for the eventuality. (I think that if they presented me with a warrant or any piece of paper with my name and aircraft number on it, I would run, not walk, to an attorney's office because that would indicate another problem altogether.)
  6. K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid! Do not volunteer information. You are required to give your name, state the fact that you are the pilot in command, and provide the required documents. Just as what they can do is spelled out very clearly in regulation, your participation should be to assist and not be the sole provider of information that may be detrimental to your future flying career.
  7. Cooperation: The inspector DOES NOT have the right to board your aircraft! But they do have the right to start an enforcement action on the spot... So why invite trouble? If you have something to hide, now is the time to call your attorney; if not, let them look. This is a good rule for all involved. Be mindful of exactly what you are ferrying and be prepared, if necessary, to explain to someone of authority why, what, where, how and who.
  8. Courtesy: Is expected from both sides. This is a regulated meeting that takes place every single day at some airport in the United States. If either side is lacking in manners, this is not going to be an easy ordeal. If it can't be handled courteously by both sides, it will most likely end up being a hassle for at least one of the two involved. Make sure you are not the loser just because of a lack of ability to interact with the other pilot.
  9. Pilot Certificate: Inspectors have the right to inspect your license, but NOT keep it for any reason. While operating an aircraft in the United States, we must have on our person at all times our Pilot's Certificate and our Medical Certificate. These days, we must also carry a federally recognized form of identification such as a driver's license or passport. If someone is a Flight Instructor, they must have that certificate also. We are not required to have our personal logbook with us, nor the maintenance records for the airplane, although we might have to produce both or either at a later meeting.
  10. Fly On: You cannot be grounded because of a ramp check of you or your aircraft. But are you willing to continue on your way if an expert has been pointed out to you something unsafe? The FAA cannot ground you for some infraction, but it will be noted if you leave the runway after a defect is pointed out to you. Should it end in some type of accident, your insurance company may choose to not pay because you were, in fact, notified of a problem at the time of the ramp check.

NOTE: Both sides are governed by the guidelines listed above, BUT if something is found during the ramp check, it must be corrected immediately or further action will most assuredly be taken by the FAA.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If things start to get out of hand, you may need an attorney. But a ramp check, when conducted professionally by both players, need not be anything more than a safety check and informal meeting between two pilots that are both seeking the same end result -- better safety and therefore a better image for all of us. I've always felt I could do my part and let them do theirs. Know the rules, be honest and fly safely.

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About This Author:
Jim Trusty, ATP/CFI, was the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year (1997), and the first ever Southern Region FAA Aviation Safety Counselor of the year (1995). He always appreciates your comments. You may call him at 615 758-8434, e-mail at lrn2fly@bellsouth.net, or write him at 101 Highland Drive, Old Hickory, TN 37138-1617. A nationally published writer since 1973, he still works daily as a Pilot/Instructor at MQY in Tennessee.
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