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Ramp checks - what to expect

Posted By:
Janet Davidson
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerAirVenture Volunteer
131
Posts
54
#1 Posted: 2/14/2011 08:59:16

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.

 

Happy reading!

 

"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."



Jerry Rosie
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
482
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101
#2 Posted: 2/16/2011 09:02:06

Interesting reading.  Thanks for posting that.



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Steve DiLullo
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
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#3 Posted: 2/22/2011 09:33:08

 I agree with the other poster, interesting reading. Thanks for sharing!



My flying/training adventures: amileofrunway.blogspot.com
David Toliver
13
Posts
4
#4 Posted: 2/22/2011 18:11:03

Thanks the posting Janet,

I find there is a lot of misunderstanding as to what happens in a Part 91 ramp check. I started flying in the mid 70's and a couple years ago, I was ramped check for the 1st (and so far only) time.  I had heard many horror stories about ramp checks - however my experience was pretty much like you described. I will admit my initial reactions were -  why me and why now?

The procedure turned out to be rather painless and only took several minutes in that I had all of the required documents in order. A few months later I ran into the inspector at another airport. W exchanged greetings and he remarked that he wasn't going to ramp check me that day. I smiled and thanked him (remembering that I had forgot to put my new registration certificate in the plane!).

 



Robert Dingley
Homebuilder or Craftsman
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#5 Posted: 2/23/2011 14:54:27

I have been "ramped" once under FAR 91 and umpteen times under 135. They always check for glasses if your certificate says "must wear corrective lenses" (or have in possesion) or similar words. Also, if they enter the cockpit and found that you have pulled breakers for any system that the aircraft was certified with, it means that you have been flying it in an un airworthy condition.

I would rather be ramped then clear customs any day.

Bob



Charles Brame
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#6 Posted: 2/24/2011 20:02:24

 "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." 

 

Interesting comment - considering that in most areas of the U.S., it is all but impossible to pry a fed out of his office to do a certification inspection on an experimental airplane. Rather than provide a tax payer funded inspector, the feds seem to prefer that the experimental builder pay through the nose for a DAR while the real feds sit in their ivory towers with their feet propped up.



Rudolph Bescherer
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#7 Posted: 2/24/2011 21:49:54 Modified: 2/24/2011 21:50:54

I'm sure the DAR thing is due to the FAA Inspector not wanting to risk his/ her neck signing off on something that they do not know enough about.

All of the FAA Inspectors I have had contact with could not do enough to help, with the exception of a certain Florida FSDO that seems to not care that a certain airplane I have been trying to purchase was operated in unairworthy condition by a certain airplane broker who has had my money for nearly 2 years without delivering the airplane, but I digress.

 



Kent Tarver
Homebuilder or Craftsman
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#8 Posted: 2/27/2011 12:45:47

1.  If I refuse a ramp check what FAR have I violated?

2.  What is the penilty for refusing a ramp check?

3.  If the FAA inspector did not witness you violating a FAR, what legal authority does he have to search your airplane?

4.  Do we give up constitutional rights when we get a "permit" to fly in the airspace?

5.  Is an FAA inspector a police or FBI or CIA?

6.  Does an FAA inspector have authority over the local sheriff?

I recently put this to a lawyer who writes for one of the aviation journals.  He has not seen fit to reply.

Under the 4th ammendment to the constitution a ramp check without a search warrent is illegal but the Federallis seem to be exempt from the law.

DAR comment.  Many FAA employees do the following;  1.  They get their DAR before retiring.  2.  They get promoted to a higher salried job just before retiring so they can retire on close to their regular salry.  3.  While they are still working they push us to use DARs for just about everything because tomorrow they will ba a DAR or DER.  I've had FAA inspectors tell me that they are too busy or don't have the budget etc., and push on me to use a DAR/DER.

California govt workers do the same.  Some years ago 42% of California's budget went to retirees.  Firemen retire as captains for a day etc.  Gov. Arnold Swartz'egger almost got impeached when tried to stop it all.

FAA guys seem to be out to get you.  I really miss the old days under the CAA.  I never met one that was not a great guy and was really dedicated to help us.

There are rare exception to todays' FAA inspectors.  Occasionally there is a really great FAA guy.  Feel lucky when you get one.

Let me remain unknows please, for obvious reasons.

 

 



Kent Tarver
Homebuilder or Craftsman
7
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#9 Posted: 2/27/2011 13:30:26

Oops, looks like I'm in trouble now.  But I don't think it can be any worse than in the past 10 years.



William Campbell
68
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#10 Posted: 2/27/2011 16:53:48

I apologize if this is a somewhat length reply.  I will try to do it without an in depth recitation of Crim Law or Consitutional Law but still explain the differences.

1.  Without looking it up I cannot answer with a specific cite.  However, I am sure that there is a provision within the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) which provides for such a procedure to insure the qualifications of the airman and the airworthiness of the aircraft.

2. The penalty would be administrative, most likely a certificate action against the airman and/or the aircraft.

3. A ramp check is not an enforcement action for an observed violation.  It is an administrative inspection to insure compliance with the FARs as to licensing and  airworthiness.  It is similar to a safety check point for a driver.  No one contents the police lack the authority to set up a check point to check driver's licenses and insurance verifications.  These are not (and may not be subterfuge for) a general criminal sweep.

4.  This is the easiest of the questions.  As there is no Constitutional right to flight by private individuals, there is no issue of this being a waiver of any Consitutional right.  There are no Constitutional rights to many things we do, driving being the most common.  These are privileges not rights (a concept not understood by the general public).

5.  Yes/No.  For reasons not germane to this discussion throw out the CIA.  But the generic Law Enforcement, FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, share some commonalities with the FAA ramp checker.  The ramp check, of itself, is adminstrative not criminal.  Should suspected criminal conduct become evident then the situation changes very rapidly.

6.  This a a bone of contention between agencies.  There is no clear cut answer.  However, under the Supremacy Clause the FAA could supplant the authority of the local sheriff.  In a general criminal situation the FAA would likely defer to the local authority.  If the criminal conduct was sufficient then it is likely that one of the alphabets I listed above would be contacted and the Supremacy Clause would definitely be invoked.

The 4th Amend. applies to search and seizure in the context of a criminal investigation/prosecution and is made applicable to the States by virtue of the 14th Amend.  It does not apply, generally, to regulatory inspections, driver's licenses, safety inspections in States which require such, or to Airman Certificate, Airworthiness Certificates, etc.

Finally, should a situation escalate into one of criminal investigation.  First and foremost, invoke one's 5th Amend. right to remain silent.  Despite propaganda to the contrary, this is not an admission of guilt or that you have something to hide.  Second, invoke your 6th Amend. right to counsel.  In plain English, do not answer any questions and request a lawyer be present to represent you.  The Supreme Court has held this must be a specific request.  You must, therefore, say, "I want a lawyer now."

I reluctantly (because I am here to talk about airplanes not legal issues) address your final paragraph.  I am not surprised you have not had a response.  These are first year law school issues and if I wasn't on this listserve I would not take the time either.  But I hope to educate many people at one time by my response.  I have practiced Federal criminal defense law for almost thirty years.  Your paragraph about needing a Search Warrant to do a ramp check is incorrect.  I have stated those reasons above but to summarize.  A ramp check is administrative not criminal.  A ramp check is not, generally, subject to 4th Amend. requirements because it is adminstrative.  The Federal government is, indeed, subject to the 4th Amend. and I have had evidence suppressed (not usable) when they have violated it.

Hopefully, these responses answer your concerns and help you understand the differences.  Now let's get back to talking about airplanes.



Jerry Rosie
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
482
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#11 Posted: 2/28/2011 08:15:31

Like your reply, William, but I fear that there will always be some who feel any government intervention to increase the safety of flight is an infringement ....

 

 



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Dean Billing
104
Posts
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#12 Posted: 3/1/2011 02:19:08
Janet Davidson wrote:

 

This was posted on another aviation forum by an FAA person, who also works at the FAA area during AV.  ...


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. ... 

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). ...

 

This is contrary to other explanations of how you must present your airman's certificate and your medical during ramp checks.  You notice that the first sentence says "... you will be required by regulation to show us."  There is a big difference between being required to "show" the FAA and physically handing your certificates over to another person.  These other  explanations expressly tell you to never hand over your airman's certificate or medical to an FAA employee.  Doing so can be construed as voluntarily surrendering your certificate.  All you are required to do is show the FAA employee the certificates and they can copy down information while you hold the certificate.

Here:  "Presenting the documentation is required, but not physically releasing the documents."  http://www.flysundance.org/january06.htm

Here: "I was advised that as far as your pilot and medical certificates are concerned, you should always show them to the FAA (upon request) but should NEVER take your hand off of it. If you do, they might perceive that you have surrendered it to them."    http://theaviationguru.com/aviation-maintenance/ramp-check-1921260.html

I found these explanations with a quick google search, but I have read it in other articles about ramp checks.  I am not sure who is right, but my guess is that if you hand over your certificates to an FAA representative who is on a power trip and your ramp check takes a turn for the worse, you might not get your certificates back.



Nick Myers
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#13 Posted: 3/1/2011 07:32:00

I am reasonably sure that (based on converstions with lawyers) you are not considered to have surrendered your certificate unless it is in writing.  It doesn't really matter who is actually holding the certificates.  Just because I let someone hold my car keys, does not imply I am transferring title to them.  That sounds like a silly game we used to play in second grade (yes, I know...we ARE dealing with the govt here...).

That said, in an effort to create the least amount of hassle, it might be wise to simiply ask the person doing your ramp check.  Something along the lines of "In your interpretation, am I surrendering my certificates if I let you hold them?" would probably be a prudent thing to do.  Depending on his/her answer you can make the judgement call at that time.

If the person has poor eyesight, I just don't see how letting that person hold the certificate when you are both in the bright sunlight can be construed as anything but being friendly and cooperative, which can only help your ramp check in the end.



Jerry Rosie
Young Eagles Pilot or Volunteer
482
Posts
101
#14 Posted: 3/1/2011 08:47:22

Ever been stopped by a traffic cop?  Did he ask for "License and registration?"  Did you hand them to him or merely hold them up for him to see?  If you handed them to him, did he give them back or did you 'surrender' your license and registration?  How long did it take for you to get your car back?  Come Onnnn.....

 



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Robert Dingley
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#15 Posted: 3/1/2011 12:28:57

Does anyone have direct knowledge of any FAA Safety Inspector using fraud and deception to compel an airman to "surrender" his certificate during a ramp check? Anywhere?

In fact, FAR 61.27 (a) says that while an airman may surrender, exchange, etc for any reason, (b) cites the precise wording of the written statement that the airman must sign to accompany the surrendered certificate.

Many of us have seen an Inspector sitting at a table in the flight planning room with a stack of certificates, inspecting & recording on a note pad and then returning them to the waiting airmen. I have. When "ramping" a crew at their aircraft, he usually takes all certificates at once, inspects and then returns them. Its impossible to read the current plastic certificate held at arm's length by a shaking hand. It takes good light at close range. Smile, give the man your ticket and don't sweat it.

Bob



Robert Dingley
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#16 Posted: 3/1/2011 12:46:34

One more thing. If he takes your certificates and runs off, apply for a replacement of a "lost" certificate.



Dean Billing
104
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26
#17 Posted: 3/1/2011 13:47:48

I knew I had seen this covered recently in Sport Aviation.  The article was the Expert Panel Section by three aviation attorneys, titled "Ramp Check" on pgs. 16-17 in the June 2010 issue.  On page 17, "Furthermore, the inspector is only asking to see your pilot and medical certificates; to Williams, that means you don't have to hand them over.  If the inspector insists on holding them, Williams suggests saying it's "for inspection purposes; this is not a surrender."  It may sound like splitting hairs, but a "misunderstanding" here could be significant.



Kent Tarver
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#18 Posted: 3/2/2011 12:40:28

I disagree with the statement that flying and driving is a privelage and not a right.  My sixth grade school teacher explained it this way.  We The People own everyting that exists that the government lays claim to.  We The People finance everything that the government does.  We The People have a RIGHT! to use what We The People own, NOT A DAMN PRIVILEGE, as long as We The People adhere to the agreed upon regulations for the use thereof.  We The People can not be denied the use of our property without DUE PROCESS.  That Sir seem to me to be a RIGHT.  The big difference between a Right and  a privilege is simple.  A Right can only be revoked (that is it is supposed to be) by Due Process.  That implys a fair trial.  Whereas a Privilege can be revoked at the whims of the government WITHOUT Due Process.  The government giveth and the government taketh.

And if the government is the authority which grants the privilege then the government has the power to revoke the privilege without a reason or accounting to anyone.  On the other hand if We The People are the authority that grants the Right then the government doesn't have authority to revoke our Right.  Yea, I know, they are doing it anyway. 

One of the biggest problems with this whole mess is that far too many of We The People, that includes lawyers, are faint of heart.  We see our Rights, Liberties and Freedoms being taken from us by our government virtually on a daily basis.  And those of We The People with law degrees should support We The People instead of making excuses for the government.

We now return to flying.



Bill Berson
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#19 Posted: 3/2/2011 17:51:40

What article or amendment to the Constitution of The United States has provided the federal government with the authority to regulate aviation?  I am curious, and have wondered about this for some time.

It seems to me each individual State should regulate aviation in the same manner as highways. If that happened, we pilots could choose to move to an aviation friendly state, if desired. And we would have local control of the State aviation regulations.


The tenth amendment says:

" The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."



Bill



William Campbell
68
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#20 Posted: 3/2/2011 19:57:15

I know I will regret this but......   I have represented people who have held the Government can't tell me what to do for some three decades.  Well, in certain instances, they can and do.  Many of these former clients are using their free time to reconsider there attitudes while they serve their sentences.  Congress has the power to regulate aviation under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because airplanes are or have been in or affecting interstate commerce.  If the States regulated individual licenses and had their own aviation rules and regulations it would be a disaster of epic proportions.  Don't care if you like it or not, it just is.

The State provides, at most, an administrative hearing to suspend or revoke your driver's license.  No trial, no jury of your peers nada.  More often than not, all you get is a letter in the mail depending on the reason for the revocation or suspension.

Why is it always the people who know the least which yell the loudest, but I digress.

Don't quote the Tenth Amendment, its irrelevant.

I suggest to those who don't like the laws, rules and regulations of this country, that upon being ramp checked, take the opportunity to tell the inspector just what you think of him and his government and his rules and what he can't do.  Please do this, there are lawyers starving out here, its a bad economy for all of us.

Handing your certificate and medical to an inspector upon request is not a surrender and will not be misunderstood as such.

This is the last I intend to post on this subject.  My head is hurting and the brick wall hasn't budged.



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