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24

Aug,2015

FAA Ramp Checks: A Survival Guide

You’ve landed, taxied to the ramp, and are tying your Cessna 172 down for the night. But who is that guy walking across the ramp toward your plane…oh no, it’s the FAA! When you see the badge clipped to his shirt that says “FAA” in big letters, you’ll probably want to climb into the baggage compartment and hide, but don’t. If you understand the “Ramp Check” process and are properly prepared for an unexpected chat with the inspector, the chances are you will survive.

 

Remember back to when your flight instructor briefly mentioned “Ramp Checks.” It is likely he or she did not spend too much time going over the process of a “Ramp Check” because they seem fairly rare. If you are a flight instructor, it may be a smart idea to have a mock “Ramp Check” with your students before sending them off to solo. Nonetheless, what is a “Ramp Check?” Essentially, these checks are conducted to ensure that a licensed pilot or student pilot are conducting flight operations safely and within the parameters prescribed by the Federal Aviation Regulations. While most checks end with the inspector shaking your hand and saying “everything looks good,” it is possible for the check to result in an enforcement action. If the FAA initiates an enforcement action as a result of a ramp check, it is possible that your pilot’s license could be suspended or revoked, and/or you could face a civil fine. The stakes are high.

 

When will a “Ramp Check” occur? A ramp check is not scheduled and is unpredictable. A check will commonly occur when an inspector observes an unsafe operation in the traffic pattern or on the ramp, is notified by ATC of an unsafe operation, or just feels like checking out your operation to make sure you are in compliance with the rules. If you are approached by someone claiming to be an FAA inspector, make sure you ask for identification before proceeding with the check, as the inspector is required to present identification prior to initiating a check. If the inspector does not present identification, make note, as that may become part of your defense if the check proceeds to an enforcement action. Furthermore, the inspector may not detain you if it means you will miss a flight or an appointment; he or she may only detain you long enough to check your records.

 

Once the “Ramp Check” is initiated, however, what can you do to ensure you keep your nose clean with the FAA? Most checks will include an inspection of the pilot’s airman and medical certificates, the aircraft paperwork, and an exterior inspection of an aircraft. Your pilot certificate will be inspected to make sure that you are licensed for the operations that you a conducting. For instance, if the inspector witnesses you landing in IFR conditions, he or she will look at your certificate to make sure that you are an instrument rated pilot. Furthermore, your medical certificate will be checked to make sure you are conducting operations within your class medical. Again, the inspector is making sure that for instance you aren’t conducting commercial operations with a third class medical. And if you are a student, your logbook will be checked for records of currency, solo endorsement, etc.

 

As to your aircraft, the inspector will want to make sure you have certain documentation/equipment onboard. Do you remember ARROW from your training – now is the time to use it! The inspector will want to see that you have with you your aircraft’s airworthiness certificate, aircraft registration, weight and balance information, and operating handbook. Beyond that, the inspector is authorized to inspect: the aircraft’s minimum equipment list (if applicable), Aeronautical charts (if applicable), the general airworthiness of the aircraft, the ELT battery, the seats/safety belts. Furthermore, the inspector can conduct a VOR check. It is important to remember, however, that the inspector is not authorized to board your aircraft without the knowledge of the entire crew; however, the inspector may inspect the exterior and look through the windows. Again, if the inspector boards your aircraft without the knowledge of the crew, note that, as it may become part of your defense if the check leads to an enforcement action.

 

Always remember to prepare for an unexpected FAA “Ramp Check,” as preparation is your only chance to survive one of these checks. Furthermore, if the check is in response to a possible violation, anything you say can be used against you. If you have questions about “Ramp Checks” or are the subject of a check, contact your team at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing-by 24/7 to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

19

Aug,2015

UAV Operations and the FAA’s New Enforcement Guidelines: We Can Do This The Easy Way or the Hard Way

UAVs are quickly becoming more regulated than the world’s oldest profession. Perhaps more regulation is necessary, however, as every time you turn on the news there is another DJI Phantom flying into the flightpath of a Boeing 737. On August 4, 2015, in an effort to prevent such violations by drone operators in the National Airspace System (NAS), the FAA released an updated notice for “Education, Compliance, and Enforcement of Unauthorized Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operators.” FAA Notice N 8900.313 replaces the now expired FAA Notice N 8900.268; however, both notices essentially contain identical provisions and guidelines. Notice N 8900.313 provides Flight Standards divisions (RFSD), and Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) aviation safety inspectors (ASI) with the “FAA approved” protocol for how drone operators should be “properly educated” if they violate a regulation within the NAS. This notice applies to both recreational (i.e. hobby enthusiasts) UAV operators and those operating under a Section 333 exemption for commercial purposes.

 

Let’s work through the guidelines together. So let’s say for example you are flying your Parrot AR 2.0 Elite Quadcopter on a photography assignment and you lose Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) with the UAV. When you lose VLOS you inadvertently climb to 1,600 feet, right into the path of a Cessna 172 on a VFR flight plan. As a result of this mistake, you are reported by the Cessna pilot and the FAA traces the UAV’s operation back to you. What’s going to happen?

 

As per Notice N 8900.313 the FSDO air safety inspector assigned to your case will first attempt to call you on the phone. The guidelines indicate that the inspector should “conduct an inquiry appropriate to the circumstances.” In our hypothetical, the inspector will likely ask what happened, whether you remained within visual line of sight with the UAV, why you climbed, etc. Beyond that the inspector will review with you the appropriate Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provisions and counsel you on how to operate your UAV within said provisions. If the inspector deems necessary, he will send you an administrative informational letter that includes website addresses to FAA UAS guidance and relevant CFR provisions. As in any FAA enforcement case, it is advised that you speak with an aviation attorney before speaking with the FAA inspector.

 

The abovementioned scenario is the easy way the inspector may resolve your case. There is, however, another, more odious way the inspector may resolve the case. If, when talking to the inspector, he or she determines that you are “uncooperative, intentionally noncompliant, or the operation poses medium to high potential or actual endangerment to the NAS,” he or she will proceed with an enforcement action as outlined in the Compliance and Enforcement Bulletin No. 2014-2. One lesson here is to not be uncooperative with the inspector, should you talk to him on the phone. Furthermore, keep yourself apprised of the CFR provisions that apply to UAV operations and don’t intentionally violate them.

 

Should the inspector propose an enforcement action, the UAS Integration Office will take over and prepare a memorandum for the Office of the Chief Counsel recommending an appropriate sanction based on the facts of the case and in accordance with the guidance in Order 2150.3 and the Compliance and Enforcement Bulletin No. 2014-2.6. At this point, the FAA could either take legal or administrative action against you. If you are notified that you are the subject of an enforcement action, it is imperative that you contact an aviation attorney.

 

The short and long is that if you violate a regulation within the NAS with your UAV, you could be subject to suspension or loss of licensure, penalties and fees, and/or a very stern talking to by some guy at the FAA. If you feel you have violated a regulation with your UAV and want to speak with an aviation attorney,call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

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