“Hello, we’re from the government and we’re here to help“
Here’s how a ramp check normally goes down:
• The flight selected will either be your last of 6 legs for the day, or after a gruelling 12 hour jetlag-inducer, or at 3am when you were thinking about a quick nap during the turnaround. This much is guaranteed.
• As you pull on to the stand, you will notice more yellow vests than normal hanging around.
• Two of these will be your friendly ramp inspection team (to be fair, they almost always are)
• A short time later, those yellow vests will be in the cockpit, and the first request will be for a look at your license, medical, aircraft documents (like Insurance, Airworthiness), and flight paperwork. Make sure you’ve done your fuel c
hecks and there are a few marks on the flight plan.
• If you get a good cop, bad cop scenario, one will disappear down the back (this will be the nice guy) and check the cabin, while the first will stay and ask you tough questions about the TCAS system.• Some time later, you’ll get a list of findings. The average check is probably about 30 minutes.
• You can be guaranteed they will always have at least one finding – which will probably be obscure.
• Sign off the checklist, and you’re on your way.
The SAFA Program (Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft) is not exclusive to the EU. Your aircraft can be inspected under the program in 47 different countries.
Here are the key points:
• Ramp checks are possible in every country in the world – but follow a more regulated and common structure in SAFA Countries – totalling 47 – see the map and list below.
• There is a standard checklist that is used by Inspectors in all SAFA countries, which you should be familiar with – see further down.
• Three categories of findings have been defined. A “Category 1” finding is called a minor finding; “Category 2” is a significant finding and “Category 3” a major finding. The terms “minor”, “significant” and “major” relate to the level of influence on safety.
• If there is a “corrective actions before flight authorised” finding – then the inspector is concerned and a repair must be made before the aircraft is released to fly.
Some interesting points:
• The Inspectors can ask you for manuals, documents, or guidance – but they are not supposed to test your knowledge of procedures, regulations, or technical matters. This doesn’t always happen in practice – so if you get a tough question – just say “I don’t know” – and let them note it if they want to. This isn’t a classroom test.
• This guidance is given to Inspectors: Delaying an operator for a non-safety related issue is not only frustrating to the operator, it also could result in unwanted human factor issues with possible negative effects on the flight preparation. They can (should) only delay your flight for a safety related issue.
• Some recent favourites: TCAS 7.1 – show me it and how it works (they just want to see that you have the current version), extra pair of eye glasses if noted on medical certificate, show me working personal flashlights, show me the aircraft manuals, and how you know they are up to date, show me your duty time rules.
• Remember, it’s not you that’s being inspected. It’s your aircraft. If you’re uncomfortable with the questions, get them noted and allow your operator to discuss later.
• Every inspector is a little different. Work with them and you’ll find that 90% of your ramp checks will be over in 20 minutes with little issue.
• That guy that says he’s flown for 30 years and never had a ramp check probably isn’t lying. There aren’t that many of them, and you might go a long time without them.
• Private Operators – especially in GA (even more so under the 5700kg mark) – are far less likely to get ramp checked. EASA guidelines do apply to General Aviation, but they are far more interested in Commercial Operators.
47 Participating States:
Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine,United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
These are interesting as background to the Program – although they are from 2012, which is the date of the most recent report from EASA on the SAFA program (thanks International Flight Resources for the summary):
– 2012 had just over 11,000 inspections performed, over twice as many as 2005.
– Most frequent private operator’s country of registration inspected was USA, Isle of Man, Germany
– Frequency of inspections is almost evenly split between EU and Non-EU countries. Largest number of SAFA locations were France (71), Italy (34), UK (31) and Germany (30)
– On average, 40 of the 54 possible items were inspected each time with 46% of the findings labeled “Significant”
– “Significant” findings are reported to the operator and the registered CAA. These will also require “Corrective action” prior to flight
– Latin American/Carib operators had the most number of findings
– USA and African operators were tied for second place
– Largest percentage of operators inspected: Germany (7.0%), Russian Federation and UK (6.8%), Turkey (4.9%) and USA (4.5%). France was 2.2%
Effective 01JUN, EASA have published new guidelines for 'Suspect Aircraft'
01JUN: EASA have published new guidelines for inspectors to assess which aircraft should be prioritised for SAFA ramp checks in Europe and SAFA compliant states. ARO.RAMP.100(b) in the Part-ARO contains the updated list of aircraft that will be selected for priority checking:
(a) (when EASA receive) information regarding poor maintenance of, or obvious damage or defects to an aircraft;
(b) reports that an aircraft has performed abnormal manoeuvres that give rise to serious safety concerns in the airspace of a Member State;
(c) a previous ramp inspection that has revealed deficiencies indicating that the aircraft does not comply with the applicable requirements and where the competent authority suspects that these deficiencies have not been corrected;
(d) previous lists, referred to in ARO.RAMP.105, indicating that the operator or the State of the operator has been suspected of non-compliance;
(e) evidence that the State in which an aircraft is registered is not exercising proper safety oversight; or
(f) concerns about the operator of the aircraft that have arisen from occurrence reporting information and non-compliance recorded in a ramp inspection report on any other aircraft used by that operator;
(g) information received from EASA Third-Country Operator (TCO) monitoring activities;
(h) any relevant information collected pursuant to ARO.RAMP.110. ("whistleblowers”)
We've published a Checklist showing the individual points that authorities will use to conduct the checks, and you can cover the areas in advance by considering each item.