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.