Photo by Niklas Daniel.
Many skydiving operations receive visits from their local Flight Standards District Offices on a yearly basis, while others haven’t had a visit in many years (if ever). Ramp checks can be a stressful experience for drop zone personnel or they can be an opportunity to build a positive relationship with the local FSDO. In the vast majority of cases, the Federal Aviation Administration inspector’s mission is to help the operator conform to regulations instead of taking enforcement action for minor violations. Welcoming inspectors at your operation shows you are committed to a safe, professional operation and are eager to comply with regulations and willing to work with the FSDO to fix any issues inspectors may identify.
Take this real-life example: A new drop zone had its first FSDO inspection, a surprise visit. The DZOs welcomed the inspector and were happy to have him look over the aircraft and logbooks to ensure that they were conforming to the regulations. He pointed out a few items he would like to see corrected, and the drop zone immediately worked with its mechanic to correct the issues. They later emailed the inspector photos of the repairs and the logbook entries. Later, when they wanted to modify an aircraft for parachute operations, they contacted the same inspector, and he helped develop a plan to modify the aircraft legally and economically. This open-door relationship with the local FSDO instilled confidence that the DZ was operating legally and that both sides were committed to safety.
On the other hand, what if your relationship with your local FSDO has soured over the years? What are your rights and what are you obligated to provide inspectors during a ramp check? First and foremost, verify their credentials. FAA inspectors must provide identification, and you may write down the serial number on their identification and film your interaction. You are also required to provide documentation upon request, including photo ID, pilot certificates, medical certificates and airworthiness certificates, but you are not required to answer any questions.
Inspectors are required to provide a Pilot’s Bill of Rights when investigating enforcement violations. If the inspector hands you one, that is your cue to not answer questions and tell them you want a lawyer. Inspectors can examine your aircraft from the outside, but they must have your permission to enter and inspect the interior. Again, do not volunteer information if they continue to ask questions. At any point after providing the required documentation, you can end the interaction by respectfully informing the inspector you don’t have any more time. Provide your email address and let them know that they can contact you if they have any further questions and that you’ll get back to them. The key during any interaction with the FAA is to always remain respectful and professional. Operators who welcome inspectors at their operation are usually left with a positive relationship with their local FSDO.
For more information on what to expect during a ramp check and to see the surveillance guidance FSDO inspectors use during their inspections, refer to “FAA Flight Standards Information Management Systems 8900.1 Volume 6-Surveillance” at fsims.faa.gov. Surveillance of Sport Parachuting is found Section 5 of Chapter 11.
Michael Knight | D-22804
USPA Director of Government Relations