This was posted on another aviation forum by an FAA person, who also works at the FAA area during AV. Although Pt 135 and Pt 121 get a mention, it does outline what to expect for an Pt 91 ramp check, and he makes some salient points. I think it has transferred in two sizes of print - not quite sure why, and I can't work out how to change that.
"One of the first things you may want to do is to look up FAA Order 8900.1 Volume 6 Chapter 1 Section 4 to find all of the guidance we inspectors are trained on and are required to follow when conducting a ramp check under Part 91. Chapter 2 Section 4 contains the guidance for ramp checks under Parts 121, 135 and 91K. Just do a simple Google search for these documents which are made available to the public, and we highly encourage you to read them. It’s just like getting ready to play football and the opposing quarterback walks up and gives you his playbook.
When you find that you have been tapped for a ramp check, here is a simple explanation for the reason as to why you have been tapped. The absolute most common reason is that we are just doing routine surveillance and you just happened to be in the right place at the right time. You are not being targeted and you are not the subject of a grudge, however there are times that we will specifically look for an individual operator or pilot if we have been directed to. The primary reason that we are out there is because we want to get the hell out of the office and remind ourselves what an airport looks like.
Many will claim the uncanny ability to spot/smell a Fed from miles away, and I will admit that some of us do tend to stick out in a crowd. The surefire way to tell if you’ve got a genuine Fed is by the two forms of ID that we carry. The first is our DOT/FAA employee ID and is carried by all FAA employees including inspectors, controllers, admins and janitors. It looks pretty much identical to the US Military badges that are being issued nowadays and is worn either on a neck lanyard (I always use my PPW lanyard in public) or clipped to a pocket. The second ID is the Aviation Safety Inspector’s Credentials, also known as the 110A, and is carried by inspectors. It is about the size of a 3x5 notecard and will be presented in a black leather wallet type thing along with the badge/shield.
DISCLAIMER: Your mileage may vary. There are still some “old school” inspectors out there who seem to be on a power trip and have devoted their lives to making you miserable and making me look bad. Fortunately, within the next couple years they will almost all be retired or gone and will have been replaced with more lovable and personable inspectors (like me) who want to be seen more like Yoda than like Darth Vader.
When we do approach you for a rampcheck, typically we will do it after you have landed and taxied in. We do this because if we do happen to find something, we’ve legally established that you were in the aircraft and that the aircraft was in the air. Once you enter the ramp, we will wait until you have parked, chocked, shut-down, unloaded, ordered fuel and gotten your passengers (if any) on their way before we approach. We prefer not to do anything in front of the passengers because they tend to freak out if it looks like their pilot is being watchdogged. We will then approach, identify ourselves, and ask if we can ramp check your aircraft. If you are in a really big hurry, like late for a meeting or trying to prevent a massive colon/bladder blow-out, just say so and we’ll get out of your way (but we may come back later).
In a part 91 ramp check, there are certain things that we will ask for and that you will be required by regulation to show us. We will need to see your certificate and government-issued photo ID per FAR 61.3. We will need to see your medical per FAR 61.23. We will need to see your airworthiness and registration certificates per FAR 91.203. If these two documents are inside the aircraft and are mounted to the wall under a clear sheet of plexiglass, you are not required to remove them since we can just pop our head in and look at them. We will need to see the aircraft operating limitations, usually in the form of the flight manual, per FAR 91.9. The flight manual will contain the weight and balance information, providing the empty weight and the empty CG of the aircraft when it was officially weighed. When we ask for your weight and balance, THIS is what we are looking for. Under part 91 you are not required to have a formally written-out weight and balance calculation to show us, but you do need to be able to tell us that your aircraft is loaded properly (if we can see that the aircraft is obviously overloaded or out of balance, we will be digging). Since the regulations don't specifcally ask for it (like they do under 121 and 135) you don't have to do it. We’re probably going to ask when your last flight review was, and we don’t need to see the logbook you can just spit out the date (or show us the Flightsafety or WINGS card). We’re probably going to ask when your last annual or 100-hour was, and we don’t need to see the logbook you can just spit out the date.
Now here is where the major 91 vs. 121/135 distinction will come in. According to FAR 121.548 and FAR 135.75, if you are operating under these regulations and we walk up with a 110A, you are required to grant us access to the interior of your aircraft if we ask for it. This is what allows inspectors to ride on the jumpseats. However there is no corresponding regulation under part 91, so if you do not want to allow us inside your aircraft you are not required to. The reason for this distinction is that under 121 and 135, any aircraft that you operate have to be listed specifically by N-number on the opspecs and are therefore FAA certified to be operated thusly. Since the aircraft have to meet certain conformity requirements to operate under 121 and 135, we need to be able to ensure they still meet conformity. Under part 91, the aircraft is your private property and you don’t have to let us inside your aircraft if you don’t want to.
Depending on the type of operation you are conducting, there are other things we will have to look at. If you are a student pilot and are flying solo, we will have to see your logbook to make sure you are properly endorsed. If you are operating under 121 or 135 we will have to see things like load manifests, maintenance writeups, manual currency, MEL, and will have to see your air carrier certificate number printed on the hull of the aircraft (unless the paintjob makes it REALLY obvious who the aircraft works for). If you are operating on a tight schedule and you have to leave RIGHT NOW because the mission and/or passengers demand it, you have every right to decline a ramp check. We are strictly prohibited from interfering with air commerce while conducting a ramp check, so if we’re going to make you late and make you lose money we are required to back off.
We will then give the aircraft a quick once-over to see if anything is very obviously broken or unairworthy about it. Maintenance inspectors will be looking more closely than ops inspectors because they know what to look for. Contrary to popular belief, we can NOT ground an aircraft on a whim. All we can do is point out things that are wrong with the aircraft and notify you that the aircraft is unairworthy, and that flying it may not be a good idea. If you still wish to fly the aircraft in that condition, after being informed that it is unairworthy, well……..
Please don’t be afraid to hand your certificate and medical to us, because I can guarantee YOU WILL GET THEM BACK and we can NOT revoke your certificate on the spot. We just need to copy down your name and certificate number and check to make sure you have the appropriate ratings and endorsements to be doing whatever it is that you’re doing. While this is happening, I highly encourage you to do the same on us: copy down our name and badge number (it’s printed on the 110A and engraved on the shield).
What may follow could include some idle hangar-flying or BS because we Feds do get lonely and we like to get out there to talk to pilots, swap cool stories, look at cool airplanes and enjoy just being outside. I can’t encourage you enough to take this opportunity for what it is: a chance to get to know the FAA and how we work. Trust me, having friends in high places can certainly help when you’re in a jam. So talk to us, get to know us, make use of the resource that we represent. We really are there to help you, and that’s what we want to do. Besides, violations and deviations involve too much damned paperwork. After all is said and done, we’ll thank you for your time and will be on our merry way.
After we return to the office, we will record the ramp check in what we call the Program Tracking and Reporting System (PTRS). This is a database where we record every single work activity that we do, so there will be a digital record in PTRS that you were ramp checked in a particular aircraft at a particular airport on a particular date. This database is for official use only and nobody but us can get to it. In fact, we can’t even enter or examine a record unless we are logged into the FAA intranet so odds are unless I’m sitting at my desk, I can’t get in there.
If we happen to catch you on a bad day and you don’t have your certificate or medical with you (yes, it happens) you will not be crucified or stoned to death. If you just plain lost your wallet and didn’t realize it until now (it happens), we can make a phone call or two to confirm with airmen records that you actually have a certificate. We’ll also give you an opportunity to find them and show them to us, usually with a 24 or 48 hour window. And yes, we are going to be able to tell the difference between “I forgot to bring my medical today” and “I don’t have a medical at all” by looking at the airmen records database. If you get caught without your certificate on you, it’ll probably just be a slap on the wrist or the equivalent of a parking ticket. If you’re caught flying and you don’t even HAVE a certificate or medical, that’s a different story.
Hopefully that will answer several of your questions and will clear up your concerns. Again I want to reiterate, your experience may vary but will generally follow the format I’ve laid out above. If you find that you’ve had a bad ramp check experience (or a good ramp check experience), I encourage you to go to this website: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/stakeholder_feedback/afs/
There you can submit detailed feedback about your experience. The bad ones will get smacked upside the head and the good ones will get a gold star and a cookie. I also highly encourage you to talk to us and get to know us if you happen to be tapped for a ramp check, it is an opportunity that you shouldn’t waste."