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Ramp Check

James E. (Jim) Trusty 2007
Reprinted with permission from Jim Trusty

Ramp checks, I am told, are just another way the Federal Aviation Administration enforces safety. It is not, I am assured, something that inspectors do in order to make friends and influence people. And if you fly far enough and long enough, you will be given the privilege of enjoying one. Here are some facts that should help you get through what you will consider an ordeal and the FAA considers routine. I think the facts listed below will help both sides of a ramp check.

If you have been keeping up with the changes and movements within the Federal Aviation Administration over the years, you will have to agree that a ramp check is not the worst possible thing that can happen to you as you go forward in flight across our beautiful land. In fact, after reading this article you might be willing to voluntarily undergo one just for your own peace of mind. They even have a program where you can volunteer to experience this very thing called a P.A.C.E. Program. You might first want to ask yourself why you would want all this grief, but then you may also want to ask yourself if you are doing anything wrong that could be corrected by an airplane inspection and a short checkride, probably not. I hope this article will remove any of the wild and bad things you have heard about ramp checks.

1. ATTITUDE: Be cool, be confidant, don't panic, be polite and cooperative. It's quicker. There is absolutely no way that having a smart attitude is going to make this meeting go any better for either side. You are a pilot and so is the inspector. Let's act like the cool professionals we are all supposed to be.

2. IDENTIFICATION: Verify that this person is an FAA inspector and that they have the authority to check you and your aircraft. This should be addressed at the very beginning. I would be reluctant to answer a bunch of questions for a stranger and, in fact, would probably call the local FAA FSDO and report this individual if they could not produce proper and immediate identification.

3. WITNESSES: If possible, get a witness or two to the entire procedure. The inspector should not complain; it will protect both sides just in case things are not running as smoothly as either side would like. It will also give another pilot a chance to see how this type of inspection is conducted so they will be better prepared in case they are the next to feel the wrath or just parked nearby.

4. INQUIRE: Why the ramp check is being conducted, why you were selected for the honor, and what they will be looking for. I think you deserve to know the answer to these questions. If this is a random "witch hunt" then you have the time to decide whether you wish to participate. If it were a fact-finding tour or a training session for a new inspector, I would worry a little that I was the selected training airplane. Are they following some new guidelines (which change with the administration or the weather) or just passing through and thought they would like to make their presence known?

5. WARRANTY: None needed, nor is any other special paperwork. It's a safety check, remember, protected by regulation and well known by you and everyone else in aviation, so be prepared for the eventuality. I think that if they presented me with a warrant or any piece of paper with my name and aircraft number on it, I would run, not walk, to an attorney's office because the fat would already be in the fire, so to speak.

6. K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid! Do not volunteer information. You are required to give your name, state the fact that you are the pilot in command, and provide the required documents. Just as what they can do is spelled out very clearly in regulation, your participation should be to assist and not be the sole provider of information that may be detrimental to your future flying career.

7. NO! : The inspector DOES NOT have the right to board your aircraft! But they do have the right to start an enforcement action on the spot! So why invite trouble? If you have something to hide, now is the time to call your attorney; if not, let them look. This is a good rule for all involved. It keeps rather innocent things to you from becoming something so wrong to them. It should also let you know that the airplane has its uses and its limitations. Be mindful of exactly what you are ferrying and be prepared, if necessary, to explain to someone of authority why, what, where, how and who.

8. COURTESY: Is required and expected from both sides. Personally, I demand it! This is a regulated meeting that takes place every single day at some airport in the United States. The requirement that both sides be civil and courteous to each other came many years ago from family training. If either side is lacking in manners, this is not going to be an easy ordeal. If both sides can't handle it courteously, it will most likely end up being a hassle for at least one of the two involved. Make sure you are not the loser just because of a lack of ability to interact with the other pilot.

9. PILOT CERTIFICATE: Inspectors have the right to inspect your license, but NOT keep it for any reason. While operating an aircraft in the United States, we must have on our person at all times our Pilot's Certificate and our Medical Certificate. If someone is a Flight Instructor, they must have that certificate also. We are not required to have our personal logbook with us, nor the maintenance records for the airplane, although we might have to produce both or either at a later meeting.

10. FLY ON: You cannot be grounded because of a ramp check of you or your aircraft. But are you willing to continue on your way if an expert has pointed something unsafe out to you? The FAA cannot ground you for some infraction, but it will be noted if you leave the runway after a defect is pointed out to you. Should it end in some type of accident, your insurance company would most probably not pay up because you were, in fact, notified of the problem in person and in writing at the time of the ramp check.

Finally, please be reminded that the rights listed above govern both sides, BUT for your information, if something wrong is found during the ramp check, with you or the aircraft, it must be corrected immediately or the FAA will most assuredly take further action.

BIG DEAL! The documents that are required to comply with the inspector's request are supposed to be on board at all times anyway: CHART (Current), AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE, RADIO LICENSE*, REGISTRATION, OPERATING LIMITATIONS, WEIGHT AND BALANCE. And now you also need a photo I.D. according to 61.3 (a)(2).

Your Private Pilot Flight Examiner can do about the same thing as a ramp check. The Private Pilot Practical Test Standards Test states the applicant must exhibit knowledge of the aircraft documents by "locating and explaining the importance of each of them."

In conclusion, I hope you appreciate the way I have approached this problem and the advice I have given. Absorb all this and then check with an aviation attorney if it starts to get out of hand. A ramp check, if conducted professionally on both sides, need not be anything more than a safety check and informal meeting between two pilots that are both seeking the same end result'better aviation safety for all of us. I've always felt I could do my part and let them do theirs. What's your feeling?

I'll see you at the airport! Always remember, pilots who don't fly have no advantage over people who can't fly. What's your excuse?

*Still needed for travel outside the United States and for some FAA 135 commercial operations.


Written permission from the author required to reprint this copyrighted article. (2007)

Jim TrustyJames E. (Jim) Trusty, ATP/CFI/IGI, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the first ever FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 and again in 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate 135 Pilot/ "Gold Seal" Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Safety Team Lead Representative/ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. If you have comments, questions, complaints, or compliments, please e-mail them directly to him, and he will certainly respond. Thanks.

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