Pilots are expected to conduct flights safely and remain in compliance with the Federal Aviation Regulations. The FAA conducts "ramp checks" to ensure pilots maintain these expectations. Though generally straightforward, some ramp checks end up with enforcement actions against the pilot. This subject report provides guidance and suggestions on how to properly handle an FAA ramp check.
A typical check involves the inspection of the pilot's airman and medical certificates and aircraft paperwork and an exterior inspection of an aircraft. The inspector may use a "Job Aid" during the inspection; this aid helps demystify the expectations. A cooperative and diplomatic attitude will usually result in a positive ramp inspection.
An FAA ramp check may occur when an inspector:
The typical ramp inspection for most noncommercial operations is during normal surveillance. The aviation safety inspector will usually present identification before conducting a ramp inspection. If you suspect you are subject of a ramp inspection and the individual does not present identification, you may ask for it, and the inspector is required to present it.
The check basically involves a review of the airman and the aircraft. The findings from both are usually noted on the FAR Part 91 Ramp Inspection Job Aid.
The inspector is not authorized to detain you if it means missing a flight or making an engagement. They may only keep you long enough to check the required paperwork.
If requested, the pilot is required to present his or her pilot and medical certificates and, if applicable, the logbook. Logbooks are required for the following flights:
All other pilots are advised to keep their logbooks at home. Don't be alarmed if the inspector begins noting this information on his Job Aid. Presenting the documentation is required but not physically releasing the documents.
The pilot certificate is inspected to ensure the airman has the proper certificate and ratings for operations conducted, such as instrument operations requiring an instrument rating on the pilot's certificate. The medical is checked for proper class; conducting commercial operations requires at least a second class medical. If applicable, the logbook will be checked for records of currency (e.g., flight review, instrument currency, and landings and takeoffs for passengers).
The inspector is not authorized to board your aircraft without the knowledge of the crew. They may inspect the exterior and look through windows.
The inspector is authorized to inspect:
AOPA suggests cooperating with the inspectors, and the following may help reduce the time and scope of the inspection:
If the ramp check is due to a possible violation, anything you say or do may be used against you.
If you have enrolled in AOPA's Legal Services Plan, call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA immediately. The consequences for even minor infractions can be far more serious than you might think. If you have not enrolled in AOPA's Legal Services Plan, call AOPA to speak with an aviation specialist about how best to proceed.
For more information, read FAA Order 8900.1, Chapter 1, Section 4, Conduct A FAR Part 91 Ramp Inspection and AOPA's Overview of FAA Enforcement.