Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Surviving Ramp Check

It doesn’t have to be the encounter most pilots dread

By definition, inspectors are also pilots, and they'll be very familiar with all regulations that apply to Part 91 operations. For that reason, be courteous, but don't volunteer any information the inspector doesn't request. Just as in a court of law, some people get themselves into trouble by talking too much. Be friendly and cooperative, but keep personal observations to yourself, and answer only the questions asked without embellishment.

If possible, enlist a witness to the process. Any passenger or fellow pilot riding with you can serve as a good witness to the event and may help sway the inspection in your favor just by being there. If you have a tape or digital recorder, there's no regulation that suggests you can't record the entire process. I now carry a small digital recorder in my airplane specifically for that purpose.

Before you proceed with the inspection, ask the inspector why you were singled out for scrutiny. Is this a random check, or did the inspector feel you did something in the pattern or on landing that warranted his attention? If there are two inspectors present, ask if one is a trainee. If so, you should be especially diligent about recording the ramp check.

The FAA inspector may ask to see your logbook, but it's not required to be in the aircraft.
If the inspector acknowledges he's considering charging you with some violation of an FAR, find out exactly what his concerns are, then tell him you'd like to call your attorney first, and that may slow down the whole process. I joined the AOPA's Legal Services Plan many years ago—fortunately, I've never needed their help.

Next, the inspector will probably ask for the airplane's paperwork. The inevitable acronym for the required airplane documents is ARROW. The "A" stands for a legible airworthiness certificate, prominently displayed in plain sight. The first "R" stands for a current registration, preferably the hard card rather than the temporary pink slip.

The second "R" stands for radio license, but the FCC abolished the need for N-registered aircraft to carry an onboard radio license several years ago, so you can forget that one as long as you're operating inside the U.S. (Technically, any foreign government may still ask to see your radio license if you're traveling outside the U.S.)

The "O" represents operating limitations and placards, either posted on the panel or in the aircraft's flight manual. The "W" reminds you that you need to carry the latest weight and balance information for your airplane. Ideally, this should be stapled into the airplane's original flight manual, but most inspectors understand if it's a separate document.

The inspector may ask to see your pilot logbook or those for the airplane to check such things as annual engine and airframe inspection compliance, and the date of the latest VOR, ELT or transponder check, but you're not required to have any of those logs on board the aircraft, so you can politely refuse (although you may be required to produce them later).

He may also ask to check the VFR or IFR navigation chart you used or will be using for your coming flight to make certain it's current. That's not usually a major infraction, but if you're going to the trouble to make certain all other paperwork is up to date, chart currency is a relatively minor detail.


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