There has been an increasing number of calls lately to the AOPA Pilot Information Center from members who have been "ramp checked." So should you be concerned?
"Nobody likes being ramp checked, but the regulations do allow FAA inspectors to do it at their discretion," said Woody Cahall, AOPA vice president of aviation services. "But a ramp check doesn't have to be particularly painful if you understand the rules and exercise some common sense."
Cahall noted that ramp checks are part of the FAA's normal surveillance activities and that the agency seems to be increasing the use of this particular enforcement tool in some areas of the country.
An FAA inspector may decide to check you and your aircraft because he's observed something unsafe, or it may simply be a random check. You can expect that an inspector will show you his identification and ask to see your pilot and medical certificates.
"Think about how you would react to a police officer and a traffic stop," said Cahall. "When he says 'license and registration, please,'" you know that a polite response and a cooperative attitude goes a long way toward minimizing any hassles."
The regulations require that your pilot and medical certificates be readily available, and you should be willing to show them. The inspector can examine your certificates, but he can't keep them. If he asks you to "surrender" your certificates, politely decline and contact an aviation attorney.
What other paperwork can he look at? Remember AR[R]OW for the documents required on board the aircraft?
But you don't have to have your logbooks - pilot or aircraft - in the airplane. There are reasons why you wouldn't want to carry them with you, and why you should keep your logs in a safe place.
"Losing aircraft logs can significantly reduce the value of an aircraft," said Cahall. "And if you lose your pilot log, it can be very difficult to reconstruct it to prove currency, time to be applied toward ratings, etc."
The regulations don't require that you keep logs with you, only that they be made available upon the reasonable request of an authorized FAA agent. So the inspector can ask to see your logs, and you can legally tell him, "They're at home. Do you want to schedule a time for me to bring them to you?"
The inspector can board the aircraft, but not without your knowledge and consent. He can inspect the exterior and look through windows.
Finally, be cooperative, but don't volunteer information. Remember what they say on Law and Order - anything you say can be used against you.
For more information, see AOPA Online's subject report " Ramp Checks." Pilots should also consider AOPA's Legal Services Plan should they need an attorney to represent them against an FAA enforcement action.
January 20, 2006