Surviving an FAA ramp check
SURVIVING AN FAA RAMP CHECK
You are standing on the ramp performing a pre−flight inspection. A man who you have never seen
before approaches you and starts chatting about the weather and asking you questions: "What's your
name?", "Where are you going?" etc. How do you respond?
First, know who you are talking to. Ask for the person's name. Find out what he or she is doing there.
In this post 9/11 era, knowing who is at the airport and what they are doing is good practice and
prevention. This is the premise of AOPA's GA Secure program. Second, if the person is an FAA
inspector, you want to find that out as soon as possible. If he or she is, ask to see his or her FAA
During the course of a ramp check, the FAA inspector will ask to inspect/review a number of items.
Some of those items and how you produce them for the FAA inspector are discussed below. Quite a bit
of this is common sense. Much of it is information all pilots learned, or should have learned, when they
learned how to fly.
When you fly an aircraft, you must have certain personal documents in your possession. You must
have your airman certificate and it must be appropriate to the aircraft and type of flying you are doing.
You must also have your medical certificate. It must be the original certificate issued by your Airman
Medical Examiner and it must also be current and appropriate to the type of flying you are doing.
Finally, in the aftermath of 9/11, you must also have in your possession a drivers license or other
government issued ID containing your photograph.
Next, the inspector may ask to see your flight logbook. I advise pilots not to bring their logbook with
them when they are flying. Why? Two reasons: One, if you bring your logbook with you and it is
destroyed if you are in an accident, you won't have any documentation to prove your flight time and
currency. This can raise potentially ugly issues not only with the FAA, but also with your insurance
company if they question your currency at the time of the accident and deny coverage. To avoid the
insurance coverage issue, if you must bring your logbook with you I suggest you keep a photocopy of
your logbook at home or in some other safe place.
Second, if you have your logbook with you and the inspector asks to review it, you will have to provide
the entire logbook. Rather than allowing the inspector to review more logbook entries than are
necessary or pertinent at the time of the ramp check, I prefer having the opportunity after the ramp
check to simply photocopy the pages documenting your currency and then providing them to the
Aircraft Documents In The Aircraft
Similar to the requirement that you have certain personal documents in your possession, the aircraft
you fly also needs to contain certain documents. The inspector may want to review the aircraft
documents during the ramp check. However, an inspector cannot inspect the interior of your aircraft
without consent. Consequently, rather than giving consent, I recommend that you personally remove
the requested documents from the aircraft and give them to the inspector.
You may need to supply the aircraft's registration certificate. Make sure the N−number on the certificate
matches the N−number on the aircraft. Also, if you are operating with a temporary certificate, remember
that it is only valid for 120 days. The aircraft's airworthiness certificate will likely be inspected as well.
Here again, make sure the N−number on the certificate matches the N−number on the aircraft data
Additional aircraft documents that are fair game during a ramp check include the operator/flight
manual, or operating limitations if the aircraft is a homebuilt aircraft, and the aircraft's weight and
balance information. For certificated aircraft, the weight and balance information should be in the
manual. For homebuilt aircraft, this information will be contained in the aircraft's operating limitations.
Survive A Jail Or Prison Sentence
Surviving An FAA Ramp Check
Since a pilot is required to be familiar with all available information for each flight, an inspector may
also ask to see the aeronautical charts you intend to use on your flight. Make sure the charts you have
in the aircraft or your flight bag are current and appropriate to your flight. This seems like a
"no−brainer", but you would be surprised how many pilots are flying with sectional charts that are
several years old or instrument approach plates that are more than 56 days old. From a compliance
perspective and, more importantly, from a safety perspective, use current and appropriate charts.
Interacting With The Inspector
During the course of the ramp check, you can also take the initiative and ask the inspector questions.
Ask the inspector why he or she suspects you and what information the inspector has that leads to his
or her suspicion. You can also ask the inspector which FAR's you are suspected of violating.
If the answers to these questions indicates that a simple misunderstanding is present, you can
certainly try to clarify the situation for the inspector. However, if it appears that the inspector's issues
are more than a simple misunderstanding or if you do not receive adequate responses to your
questions, do not volunteer any information to the inspector. Remain polite and respectful, but don't
give the inspector any more information than is required.
Do not try to argue with the inspector. Very rarely will you win an argument with the inspector. On the
contrary, an argument with the inspector will usually get you in deeper trouble. You will either provide
the inspector with information that helps the inspector make his or her case against you or you will
exhibit a "poor compliance attitude", or both. Don't do it. Discretion and respect will serve you better.
Most pilots will never find themselves in a ramp check, due to the minimal manpower the FAA has
available for ramp checks. However, if you find yourself in a ramp check, it is survivable. Hopefully this
information, along with the right attitude, will get you through it. As always, fly safe and fly smart.