By AOPA ePublishing staff
Imagine you're preflighting your airplane when a stranger walks up, introduces himself as an FAA safety inspector, and asks to "see your paperwork." Nervous? You don't have to be. A little preparation can help you understand your rights and obligations and ensure that the meeting ends well.
During a typical general aviation ramp check, you, as the pilot in command, will be asked to provide your pilot certificate, medical certificate, and specific aircraft documentation, including the registration and airworthiness certificates. Knowing where to find these documents, and making them easily accessible, can reduce your stress.
The inspector may also ask to see the aircraft operating handbook, weight and balance information, and minimum equipment list and aeronautical charts where applicable. Under specific circumstances, set out in the Ramp Check subject report from the AOPA Pilot Information Center, he may also ask to see your pilot logbook. If these criteria don't apply to you, don't offer your pilot logs. In fact, it's a good idea to leave them at home to avoid loss.
The inspector can also look at your seat belts, check your VOR, check your ELT battery, and inspect the outside of the aircraft and look in the windows for any safety or airworthiness concerns. So it's a good idea to be familiar with the quirks and blemishes of any aircraft you fly, particularly if it's an older bird with signs of wear and tear. To learn more about the difference between the normal signs of aging and potential trouble, take the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's online course Aging Aircraft.
Always be courteous and cooperative during a ramp check, but don't volunteer more information than necessary since anything you say can be used against you in the event of an enforcement action. And don't surrender your pilot certificate, logbooks, or other paperwork. The inspector is authorized to review them, not take them.
October 25, 2007