Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Ramp Check

The Ramp Check

To some pilots, a ramp check is a mysterious experience that is feared and misunderstood. As an FAA Inspector, I am frequently asked many questions about ramp checks. Who is ramp checked? Where will we be ramp checked? Why will we be checked?  Quite simply, a ramp check takes place when an FAA Inspector checks the credentials of an airplane and it’s pilot. The check can be random, or connected to an incident, occurrence, or accident. Frequently, an FAA Inspector will place himself/herself on a ramp and check every aircraft that taxies up to that location.

The local Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO) typically have two types of Aviation Safety Inspectors that perform ramp checks:

• The Operations Inspector (a pilot)
• The Airworthiness Inspector (an A & P mechanic)

It is not uncommon for a team of two to do their surveillance together.  The Operations Inspector checks the pilot, and the Airworthiness Inspector checks the aircraft.

The Inspectors need to determine who is the Pilot in Command and proceed to check for proper credentials. The necessary credentials are the pilot certificate, current medical, and government-issued photo ID. The Inspector might also request a copy of the PIC’s weather briefing (written or oral), airworthiness certificate and aircraft registration. If the Inspector opts for more information, he/she might request the pilot’s last required flight review and to inspect the aircraft’s maintenance logs, showing annual inspections and any other pertinent maintenance logbook entries.  These requests could require a visit to the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) by the airman or mechanic. On some occasions the FAA will allow these documents to be scanned and emailed, or faxed to the office.

To be clear, these requests, once made, are not optional. If you refer to 14 CFR Part 61.51 (i) 1,2,3,4,5; you will see that an FAA Inspector acting on behalf of the Administrator can demand all documents and records. Failure to produce these documents would be a violation of this Regulation.

Although we frequently perform random ramp checks, most checks are connected with occurrences, incidents, or accidents, some of which are very minor in nature. For example, our FSDO is located on an airport. If an aircraft gets a flat tire while taxiing to or from a runway, we are notified. At that point, the office will dispatch one or two Inspectors to take a look. A ramp check is part of the investigation even if no regulation has been obviously violated. Most times, the pilot and the aircraft are in compliance. However, on occasion we come across an operator with an expired medical, expired temporary aircraft registration or some other item of interest.

If a discrepancy is apparent, the Inspector will do a complete investigation and determine if a violation exists. Violation investigations can have different outcomes:
1. no action
2. administrative action, such as warning letters or remedial training
3. certificate suspension
4. certificate revocation
5. 44709 reexamination
note: administrative action, remedial training, warning letters, 44709 reexams are not considered violations and do not need to be reported as such to employers, insurance companies, etc.

Pilots often remark that they have been flying for many years and have never been ramp checked. This is due to many reasons, the most obvious being a lack of manpower on the part of the FAA. Rural, quiet airports are not on the priority list of FAA Inspectors as a rule. However, an FAA Inspector can show up at any airport for any reason at any time. Be forewarned, we do work at night and on weekends.

The infrequency of ramp checks will not be an excuse if you have fallen into bad habits once the FAA does show up. I have seen many pilots allow temporary lapses in their medical and required flight reviews because no one seems to be around to enforce these important regulations. Non-approved parts on aircraft and repairs to aircraft without proper documentation by a licensed A & P are also common practice in the more remote airports.

The Code of Federal Regulations exists to keep the pilots and flying public safe. Don’t be complacent about keeping yourself and your aircraft in compliance.

If an FAA Inspector approaches you, it is your right to ask for his/her proper documentation, called a 110A. It will be a photo ID with his/her name and the words AVIATION SAFETY INSPECTOR below the photo. In our office, we put a great deal of importance on the cooperation of the pilot. As a pilot, you can refuse to talk to the Inspector and can refuse to cooperate. Be advised, that refusal to cooperate will generate letters from your FSDO and enforcement actions against your pilot certificate. Cooperation, however, will frequently soften the situation and allow things to move more easily.

Be prepared for that eventual day that the FAA shows up to talk to you, either randomly or for an occurrence. Carry your required documents, keep your medical and flight review current, maintain good log books (both pilot and aircraft), and your ramp check will be a short and not unpleasant experience.

Paul Gretschel ATP MCFI CFII ME
Aviation Safety Inspector
BPPP Instructor

The opinions discussed in this article are strictly those of the writer, who is a BPPP Instructor and FAA Inspector. It does not reflect any policies or opinions of the Federal Aviation Administration

No comments:

Post a Comment