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I was taught during my private pilot training to only provide the minimum information necessary to the FAA when they ask for something so that you don't open yourself up to more scrutiny.

In that spirit, what am I legally required to provide to an FAA inspector during a ramp check? If they ask for something, can I tell them "No" or "I will respond to that in writing within 30 days after I have my lawyer review your question"?

In my car, I can refuse to let them look inside unless they have a search warrant. Does the same apply with a private airplane?

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AOPA has a good article on this topic:

  • You're required to present pilot and medical certificates (plus logbook if required for flight)
  • The inspector may not detain you
  • The inspector may not board the aircraft without informing you

But an inspector is authorized to check the following items:

  • The airworthiness certificate
  • The aircraft registration
  • The operating handbook
  • The weight and balance information
  • The minimum equipment list (if applicable)
  • Aeronautical charts (if applicable)
  • The general airworthiness of the aircraft
  • The ELT battery
  • A VOR check
  • The seats/safety belts.

In general, saying as little as possible seems to be a good plan:

If the ramp check is due to a possible violation, anything you say or do may be used against you.

If you have enrolled in AOPA's Legal Services Plan, call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA immediately. The consequences for even minor infractions can be far more serious than you might think.

As for a search warrant, a ramp check is an FAA administrative process, not a law enforcement action. The issue of law enforcement checking private aircraft is a hot topic currently and AOPA provides a checklist in case you are stopped for search. Their recommendation is to refuse the search (unless they have a warrant, of course) but not interfere if they go ahead and do it anyway.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The inspector may not board the aircraft without informing you". So this means that he just has to inform me and then he can go on board? I.e. I can't refuse? $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jan 7 '14 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Inafziger That isn't 100% clear (to me) but I think the FAA's handbook for part 91 inspections implies yes: "An inspector must not board any aircraft without the knowledge of the crew or operator. Some operators may prefer to have a company representative present to answer questions." In practice, you could check all the items above on a C152 just by leaning in the door, but on a larger aircraft it's hard to see how the inspector could do that without actually boarding. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 7 '14 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ In general, I suggest to my (non-primary) students, that they not have their logbook available. This gives them opportunity to check endorsements, etc. prior to presenting them to the FAA. As a CFI it has been my experience that students will fly with me, without evidence of IFR currency, landing (or night) currency and even flight reviews. I almost all cases, the student had the endorsement somewhere, sometimes in a different logbook. By deferring to later, one has the time to get the records together. Except for student pilots, most pilots do not need their logbook on the flight. $\endgroup$ – mongo Oct 23 '17 at 23:29
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My CFI instructed me to present my Pilot's License for the inspector to view (only if asked) but never to hand it to him ... because that is interpreted by the FAA as "voluntarily surrendering" one's license ... in which case he may keep it.

I have nothing to back that up, but this is an instructor with 3500 hours and serves as an airport chairman, so I tend to believe he knows.

The same person tells me that the most common reason for random ramp checks is to find private pilots flying what can be determined by the FAA to be flights for compensation of some kind. AOPA had an article about a month ago about the ambiguity of this regulation. The FAA's definition of "compensation" seems to be so far reaching it is undefinable. If, for example, I fly a friend to a college football game and he later helps me get a better paying job, the FAA seems to be saying that they can determine that I received an indirect benefit (compensation) as a result of our joy ride. Laughable.

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