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This video tells the story of a pilot who, according to government records:

[Committed] four counts of identity theft related to his use of the victim pilot’s passport and personally identifying information to fraudulently obtain the FAA credentials at issue.

At his plea hearing, [he] admitted that he stole the identity of the victim pilot, which he used to obtain certain FAA credentials.

These credentials permit a pilot to fly multi-engine aircraft, and have strict requirements for training, knowledge and experience. [He] had never been issued these specific credentials, and a general pilot’s license he had previously been issued had been revoked by the FAA.

Initially I was surprised that he had gotten away with this so many times and for so long, but then I realized, that I have never, or ever seen anyone get asked to provide their pilot's license at an airport or airfield. Nor has anyone ever asked for certificates of airworthiness, tech logs, etc. (in General Aviation).

Does anyone ever ask to see your license or other paperwork in the GA world? If not, then really what stops pretty much anyone with the money buying a plane and flying it around, it seems that you only get caught if you crash (which obviously you WILL without training).

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  • $\begingroup$ I think @Pondlife answered this in What are the consequences of flying GA without a license (certificate)?. Also there is a difference between no license and no valid license, you may have a license, but for another aircraft type/category/use. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented May 21 at 10:33
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    $\begingroup$ @mins I've read that, it does touch on the subject, but doesn't really talk about frequency of stops / checks (if they happen at all). $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented May 21 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is like cars: (I think I never got my permit checked). If you have a permit and you can drive, low or no probability to be checked. But I assume if you to egregious errors driving (or flying) you may get noticed. So, after spending money to learn flight, why not doing the final check? (and also note: if you cause an accident, you risk to lose all you have: no insurance will pay for you, so it is all your pocket money). So: risk vs. benefits $\endgroup$ Commented May 21 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ Watching that video, it's more big government agency inadequacy (in this case FAA, but you can imagine it being many others) and the dangers of a well practiced conman than it is about license checking! $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented May 21 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ There's an old joke going around about "the FAA being 'so proud' to announce that 'finally after years of hard work and advocacy' they managed to get 50% of the pilots in Alaska licensed". Pulling a plane over and checking a license is more involved than with cars. Pairs of fighter jets are expensive to operate. Ramp checks are a thing, but seemingly rare. Of course, someone could by flying off their "back 40" in Texas where I suspect ramp checks do not happen. $\endgroup$
    – Azendale
    Commented May 21 at 15:26

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In North America at least, "Ramp Checks" are a thing, where some FAA or Transport Canada inspector could approach you ask to "zee your paperz", including personal license documents and aircraft documents.

This is more likely at busier airports than little country airstrips, but you can never be sure. If you are caught with missing documentation, you might get just a stern talking to if it's just something minor and the inspector likes you, or get some kind of administrative penalty like a fine, but it could include a license suspension if it is serious enough (like being caught with an invalid medical).

I assume random spot checks are also done in the UK. If I'm towing gliders, I may not leave the gliders waiting in line in the lurch just because I remembered I left my licence in the car and had to go fetch it, but I wouldn't go flying without everything in order for both plane and pilot anywhere else, including other small airports. You never know.

In the case of someone up to no good, the chance of getting caught in a spot check is a calculated risk you take as a fraud artist, and is probably fairly low. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person I've known in the past who's been approached by an inspector while out and about.

Another important consideration. If there's an accident and any significant violation of the regulations are involved, your insurance company may have a get-out-of-jail-free card they can play to avoid paying out. For smarter pilots at least, this is a stronger motivation to play it straight than getting caught and dinged by an inspector.

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Does anyone ever ask to see your license or other paperwork in the GA world?

Yes, absolutely.

For pilots, your license and medical will be checked at the point that you renew/revalidate any rating or endorsement on your license. So things like an SEP, or an IR rating renewal requires that the examiner signing this off check your paperwork.

For aircraft, the pilot is obliged to check paperwork (airworthiness certificate, insurance, maintenance schedule, etc) is in order before each and every flight.

If not, then really what stops pretty much anyone with the money buying a plane and flying it around, it seems that you only get caught if you crash

Wouldn't the same be true for motorcycles, cars, boats or just about anything that is traditionally "licensed". You only get in trouble for not having a license if you....get caught.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure revalidation counts... you're not going to revalidate a fake license :D $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented May 21 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ "For aircraft, the pilot is obliged to check paperwork" If I'm flying my 172, I'm the pilot and I'm checking my own "paperwork" with a wink and a nod. I think the question is, "is anyone else going to ask to see my paperwork?". Of course, if I'm renting the aircraft, you'd think the owner/agent would want to do some validation, but if I own it? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 21 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ Brings up a related but separate question: Do I need a valid pilot's license to buy a GA aircraft? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 21 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan no, why would you? You can buy a 18 wheeler truck without a license to drive it, why would/should this be any different for an aircraft? It's just an asset, people buy them without ever flying it themselves. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented May 21 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ That makes sense, @Jamiec. But I wasn't sure. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 21 at 17:39

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