FAA Field Checks
When it comes to manned aircraft, the FAA may execute field checks, sometimes called a ramp check. The FAA is not authorized to detain or delay the aircraft operation. They are not authorized to retain certificates or logs. They may ask to see and you must present your pilot certificate, medical, and logs. You are not required to have logs in the airplane, but may negotiate presentation of the desired information at a later date. If you have the logs in the aircraft, you mus tpermit inspection.
The FAA can't ground an airplane, but may note items that have to be repaired.
Besides the FAA, other officeals may make a field inspection. Local law enforcement has the authority to do so. Their authority is based on local laws and the FAA has given some guidance as to how local law enforcement should interact when it comes to the aviation side of issues.
The main interest of the FAA is said to be to deter problems, to detect them and if necessary to investigate.
Keep in mind that local law enforcements (LEO) have other interests besides aviation safety. They may be concerned about privacy, drug running, money laundering and more activities.
Everyone operating an airplane, manned or unmanned, should be aware of the issues involving field checks and should have knowledge of how to interact.
What are your rights?
You will not win a face-to-face argument with the FAA or LEO. Don't lie. You generally don't have to answer, but don't lie. Don't volunteer anything, no matter how sweet they are talking. They can and will hold anything you say against you.
What if you violate a regulation? You can file an ASRS/NASA form within 10 days. You don't have to identify yourself. It has been shown to help you if you haven't broken a law.
The first level of FAA action will be by the FSDO. They may stop things right there and let you off with a verbal discussion. That could include an Aircraft Condition Notice or a Letter of Correction. These are administrative actions. They could involve a follow-up inspection of the operator or the aircraft.
If the alleged violation is demeaned serious enough, it could result in an investigation which might lead to enforcement action. That could be a monetary fine, a letter to cease operations, or action against your pilot certificate.