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Preparing for European Ramp Inspections

Knowing the EASA rules and documenting compliance makes SAFA ramp inspections go more smoothly.

November 7, 2017

Note – This affects all Europe, EASA Member States, China, India, and is an ICAO requirement for all ICAO States. Please click on link: to verify before conducting flight operations with the European Union: EASA Participating States

Note – EASA current SAFA Ramp Inspection Checklist Excerpt for MEL Requirements:  

EASA SAFA Checklist Serialized 14 CFR 91 & Part 135 MEL Inspecting instructions and PDFs - Issue 2 2015
EUROPE (Article from Business Aviation)

Non-European Union-registered aircraft operators are subject to Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft (SAFA) ramp inspections when operating in European Union (EU) member states, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and any state with which the European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) has a working arrangement on SAFA. As the Pilot In Command, you are ultimately responsible for complying with the rules or the ICAO state or country in which you are operating, not the owner or your compliance company.

“SAFA ramp inspections can be challenging for some U.S.-registered aircraft operators, particularly if they are unprepared and approach the ramp check from the wrong perspective,” said Doug Carr, NBAA’s vice president of regulatory and international affairs. “Doing a little homework before flying to states that utilize EASA SAFA inspections can be help ensure a successful check.”


What can you do to prepare for a ramp check in Europe? What are the common stumbling blocks for U.S.-registered aircraft operators?

“The greatest key to making a SAFA ramp inspection go smoothly is to be prepared,” said Steve Thorpe, a Gulfstream G550 captain and former chairman of the NBAA International Operators Committee. “As soon as an inspector sees you are prepared, you’re more likely to have a successful check.”

Both Thorpe and Nat Iyengar, a member of NBAA’s Access Committee, recommend reviewing EASA’s guidance on ramp inspections, which includes a list of inspection items. Operators should use that list to prepare a concise guide to inspectors on where each inspection item is addressed, whether it is in a manual, a checklist or a physical location on the aircraft. A best practice is to have a binder or electronic document that follows, point-for-point, the SAFA ramp inspection items list.

“The biggest issues generally occur when the inspectors come to the plane and the crew has nothing prepared,” said Iyengar. “The inspection probably won’t go well if the crew members are digging around for references.”


Iyengar emphasized the importance of perspective in avoiding common findings.

“Pilots tend to look at the inspections from the FAA perspective, not the ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] perspective, as EASA does,” said Iyengar. “If you approach it from the ICAO perspective, you will be ready for the differences [between FAA and EASA requirements].”

Some of those differences include demonstration of qualification and currency and flight planning activities. One common problem for U.S.- certificated pilots is EASA’s lack of a grace period for medical certificates and training events. In the U.S., a first-class medical issued on Dec. 10, 2016 is valid for six months, plus a grace period until June 30, 2017. The FAA also allows grace periods for training events. EASA, however, has no similar allowance. A medical issued on Dec. 10, 2016, and valid for six months expires on June 10, 2017. A check ride completed on June 1, 2016, and valid for one year means an aviator should take another check ride by June 1, 2017.

Pilots should also be prepared to prove their qualifications, not just by providing their airman certificate with related ratings, but also by providing proof of current training and checking, if required. For Part 91 operations, this means a valid Part 61.58 proficiency check, if applicable. For Part 135 operations, this means valid training and checks, including those required by Part 135.293, 135.297 and 135.299, as applicable to the pilot’s duty position.

Another common qualification concern is for pilots who require eye correction to fly, as noted on their medical certificate. Pilots requiring eyeglasses or contact lenses must have a spare pair available in the cockpit. A spare pair is not required in the U.S.


Fuel planning for alternate airports is another possible stumbling block. Most flight planning vendors and software assume if an alternate is needed, the pilots will fly directly from the destination airport to the alternate. A total of 45 minutes’ worth of fuel is added to the fuel needed for that direct route. EASA requires fuel planning for the most likely route to the alternate, plus 45 minutes of fuel.

Have your i’s dotted and t’s crossed as far as what ICAO and EASA require. Be aware of and familiarize yourself with the guidance EASA provides on SAFA checks.
– STEVE THORPE Gulfstream G550 captain

It’s also important for fuel levels at takeoff to match the planned amount. Sometimes pilots request extra fuel or have fuel off-loaded. Planning calculations must be adjusted appropriately after these changes are made to be consistent with the fuel on board at the time of the ramp inspection.

Pilots should also be prepared to show accurate weight-and-balance calculations, even for Part 91 operations. Although Part 91 requires a pilot to fly within the operating limitations of the aircraft, the requirement to prove in writing that an aircraft’s weight-and-balance calculation is within these limits represents a key difference between FAA and EASA or ICAO requirements.

Finally, properly notated journey logs and master documents are necessary if the flight originated overseas.

“You can’t look at this inspection through an FAA lens,” said Iyengar. “The FAA is very clear – when flying internationally, a pilot must operate under the more restrictive requirements, whether that’s the FAR or the state regulations in which you are flying.”


A SAFA ramp inspection may result in “findings,” which are classified by severity. It’s important to understand the different categories of “actions” that result from an EASA ramp inspection.

  • A Class 1 action is simply provided as information to the aircraft captain. All SAFA ramp inspections result in a Class 1 action, even those with no findings. The inspector provides the pilot with a Proof of Inspection (POI) document that may or may not include findings.
  • A Class 2 action is information to the aircraft operator and to the aviation authority under which the aircraft is registered. In this case, the FAA receives a copy of any Class 2 action received by the operator of any U.S.-registered aircraft.
  • A Class 3 action is the most severe. EASA considers these findings to have a potential major effect on safety, and an inspector may require remedial action be taken before an aircraft can depart. A very serious Class 3 action can result in the aircraft being detained by the aviation authority or the operator or aircraft being banned from operating in EASA airspace. Class 2 and Class 3 actions typically require follow up by the operator.

If you fly to Europe, the value of understanding SAFA ramp inspections and being prepared cannot be understated. “Have your i’s dotted and t’s crossed as far as what ICAO and EASA require,” said Thorpe. “Be aware of and familiarize yourself with the guidance EASA provides on SAFA checks.”

Pilots who take time to be prepared are likely to view a SAFA ramp inspection as a non-event. If an operator is prepared, an inspection should only take 15 to 30 minutes.

Is an MMEL good enough?

Developing your own MEL can be expensive and the manufacturer’s MMEL might be all you really need. Can you do that? Yes, but let’s understand the differences first.

What’s the Difference Between an MMEL and an MEL?

[FAA Order 8900, Volume 4, Chapter 4, ¶4-658]

    • Master minimum equipment list. An MMEL contains a list of items of equipment and instruments that may be inoperative on a specific type of aircraft (e.g., BE-200, Beechcraft model 200). It is also the basis for the development of an individual operator’s MEL.

I think of an MMEL as coming from the manufacturer, covering a broader range of aircraft that just yours.

  • Minimum equipment list. The MEL is the specific inoperative equipment document for a particular make and model aircraft by serial and registration numbers, e.g., BE-200, N12345. A part 91 MEL consists of the MMEL for a particular type aircraft, the preamble for part 91 operations, the procedures document, and an LOA. The FAA considers the MEL as an STC. As such, the MEL permits operation of the aircraft under specified conditions with certain equipment inoperative.

[FAA MMEL Policy Letter 34, Preamble] The MMEL is the basis for development of individual operator MELs which take into consideration the operator’s particular aircraft equipment configuration and operational conditions. Operator MELs, for administrative control, may include items not contained in the MMEL; however, relief for administrative control items must be approved by the Administrator. An operator’s MEL may differ in format from the MMEL, but cannot be less restrictive than the MMEL. The individual operator’s MEL, when approved and authorized, permits operation of the aircraft with inoperative equipment. Equipment not required by the operation being conducted and equipment in excess of 14 CFR requirements are included in the MEL with appropriate conditions and limitations. The MEL must not deviate from the Aircraft Flight Manual Limitations, Emergency Procedures or with Airworthiness Directives. It is important to remember that all equipment related to the airworthiness and the operating regulations of the aircraft not listed on the MMEL must be operative.I think of an MEL as something you are responsible for putting together (with our without) the manufacturer’s help. It covers specific aircraft.

You can use the MMEL as an MEL, however . . .

[FAA Order 8900, Volume 4, Chapter 4, ¶4-661] The regulations require that all equipment installed on an aircraft in compliance with the airworthiness standards and operating rules be operative. The FAA-approved MMEL includes those items of equipment and other items which the FAA finds may be inoperative and yet maintain an acceptable level of safety. The MMEL does not contain obviously required items such as wings, flaps, rudders, etc. When a part 91 operator uses an MMEL as an MEL, all instruments and equipment not covered in the MMEL must be operative at all times regardless of the operation conducted, unless:

  • They are newly installed and are not a safety of flight item such as a terminal collision avoidance system (TCAS), an extra piece of navigational equipment, a wind shear detection device, a ground proximity warning system, a radar altimeter, passenger convenience items, etc.;
  • The operator has developed appropriate procedures for disabling or rendering them inoperative; and
  • The operator has contacted the FSDO having oversight within 10 calendar-days following an installation and requested in writing that the equipment be added to the MMEL.

So if you are just talking about operating in the United States and you are okay with the fact everything in your specific airplane that isn’t addressed in the more general MMEL must be working (for the most part), then you are good to go. Except . . .

Is an MEL ever mandatory?

If you fly internationally, unless every country you plan on visiting has an exception to the following paragraphs to ICAO Annex 6, I believe you are required to have an MEL unless you are flying non-commercially and your aircraft does not have an MMEL established.

ICAO Annex 6, Part II, applies to all general aviation aircraft operating internationally.

[ICAO Annex 6, Part II, ¶] Where a master minimum equipment list (MMEL) is established for the aircraft type, the operator shall include in the operations manual a minimum equipment list (MEL) approved by the State of Registry of the aeroplane which will enable the pilot-in-command to determine whether a flight may be commenced or continued from any intermediate stop should any instrument, equipment or systems become inoperative.[ICAO Annex 6, Part II, Attachment 3.B]

  1. If deviations from the requirements of States in the certification of aircraft were not permitted, an aircraft could not be flown unless all systems and equipment were operable. Experience has proved that some unserviceability can be accepted in the short term when the remaining operative systems and equipment provide for continued safe operations.
  2. The State should indicate through approval of a minimum equipment list those systems and items of equipment that may be inoperative for certain flight conditions with the intent that no flight can be conducted with inoperative systems and equipment other than those specified.
  3. A minimum equipment list, approved by the State of the Operator, is therefore necessary for each aircraft, based on the master minimum equipment list established for the aircraft type by the organization responsible for the type design in conjunction with the State of Design.
  4. The State of the Operator should require the operator to prepare a minimum equipment list designed to allow the operation of an aircraft with certain systems or equipment inoperative provided an acceptable level of safety is maintained.

ICAO Annex 6, Part I, applies to all commercial aviation aircraft operating internationally.

[ICAO Annex 6, Part I, ¶6.1.3] The operator shall include in the operations manual a minimum equipment list (MEL), approved by the State of the Operator which will enable to pilot-in-command to determine whether a flight may be continued from any intermediate stop should any instrument, equipment or systems become inoperative. Where the State of the Operator is not the State of Registry, the State of the Operator shall ensure that the MEL does not affect the aeroplane’s compliance with the airworthiness requirements applicable in the State of Registry.[Wynbrandt]

  • U.S. Part 91 twin turboprops and jets flown in Europe must now operate with a Minimum Equipment List (MEL) developed for that specific aircraft under Letter of Authorization (LOA) D195, rather than with a manufacturer’s aircraft model Master MEL (MMEL) approved by the FAA under LOA DO95. Laurent Chapeau, head of the ramp inspection office of the French Safety Oversight Authority, which administers SAFA ramp inspections for third-country operators in France, has affirmed EASA’s recent recognition of the ICAO standard.
  • “The regulation is now clearly written from last November,” Chapeau said, adding that his agency has noted a lack of compliance “during ramp inspections in the last few months.” In some cases, inspectors “did raise Category 2 findings,” which represent “significant impact on safety” and require operators to take follow-up preventive action.
  • Under ICAO guidelines, LOA DO95 doesn’t provide the oversight or approval process required for a valid MEL. FAA Flight Standards is reportedly developing compliance solutions for affected U.S. operators. The U.S. is the sole ICAO signatory country that allows operators to use an MMEL as an MEL.

So if you are operating internationally, you need an MEL and an MMEL isn’t good enough. If you are flying a U.S. registered aircraft, that MEL is issued to Part 91 operators under LOA D195. If you are operating under LOA D095, you have an “MMEL used as an MEL” and that is not good enough to operate internationally.

. . . under Part 91 are the Repair Category Intervals mandatory?

Now that you have an MEL and the authorization to use it, do you have to comply with those repair intervals that you’ve heard only apply to commercial operators?

[FAA Order 8900, Volume 4, Chapter 4, ¶4-658. B. 13)] The Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) issues a letter of authorization (LOA) to an operator when the FSDO authorizes an operator to operate under the provisions of an MEL. Together, the LOA, the procedures document (paragraph 4-658B(22)), and the MMEL constitute a supplemental type certificate (STC). The operator must carry the STC in the aircraft during its operation.I’ve heard some people say an MEL is advisory for us who operate under Part 91 but that isn’t true. 14 CFR 91, ¶91.213 tells us the MEL and the LOA authorizing the MEL are mandatory for those of us operating turbine-powered airplanes. FAA Order 8900, Volume 4, Chapter 4, ¶4-658. B. 13) tells us that these become part of an STC and must be carried on the aircraft. So if your MEL specifies repair intervals and doesn’t give you an exception, you must comply with them. An FAA Policy Letter spells this out:

[FAA MMEL Policy Letter 25, ¶24.] . All users of an MEL approved under parts 91K, 121, 125, 129, 135 and 142 must effect repairs of inoperative instrument and equipment items, deferred in accordance with the MEL, at or prior to the repair times established by the following letter designators. Part 91 MEL users (D095/D195 LOAs) are not required to comply with the repair categories, but will comply with any provisos defining a repair interval (flights, flight legs, cycles, hours, etc):

  1. Repair Category A. This category item must be repaired within the time interval specified in the “Remarks or Exceptions” column of the aircraft operator’s approved MEL. For time intervals specified in “calendar days” or “flight days”, the day the malfunction was recorded in the aircraft maintenance record/logbook is excluded. For all other time intervals (i.e., flights, flight legs, cycles, hours, etc.), repair tracking begins at the point when the malfunction is deferred in accordance with the operator’s approved MEL.
  2. Repair Category B. This category item must be repaired within 3 consecutive calendar-days (72 hours) excluding the day the malfunction was recorded in the aircraft maintenance record/logbook. For example, if it were recorded at 10 a.m. on January 26th, the 3-day interval would begin at midnight the 26th and end at midnight the 29th.
  3. Repair Category C. This category item must be repaired within 10 consecutive calendar-days (240 hours) excluding the day the malfunction was recorded in the aircraft maintenance record/logbook. For example, if it were recorded at 10 a.m. on January 26th, the 10-day interval would begin at midnight the 26th and end at midnight February 5th.
  4. Repair Category D. This category item must be repaired within 120 consecutive calendar-days (2880 hours) excluding the day the malfunction was recorded in the aircraft maintenance record/logbook.

So, even operating under Part 91, you must comply with the repair intervals.

There is another view of this, however. Some interpret everything under the “Repair Category” section to be the repair category and the “provisos” everything in the columns to the right. I’ve asked a PMI who disagrees. But it has also been pointed out that if you ask 20 FAA inspectors for an opinion you will get 21 answers. (I once worked with a POI who said, “The FAA is comprised of 78 Flight Standards District Offices, each independently owned and operated.”) So what to do? My advice: treat the repair intervals as applicable, that is the conservative approach. If you want to interpret the regulations more liberally, ask your PMI to be sure.


14 CFR 43, Title 14: Maintenance, Preventative Maintenance, Rebuilding, and Alteration, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

14 CFR 91, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space, General Operating and Flight Rules, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation

FAA Orders 8400 and 8900

FAA MMEL Policy Letter 25, Revision 20 GC, December 17, 2012

FAA MMEL Policy Letter 34, Revision 4, August 15, 1997

FAA MMEL Policy Letter 36, Revision 2, August 15, 1997

Review EASA guidance material at easa.europa.eu.


Do you operate with a Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL)? Part 91 operators may request FAA authorization to use an MMEL as an operator MEL in order to defer repairs of and consequently fly with certain inoperative equipment. This authorization comes in the form of Letter of Authorization (LOA) D095. Obtaining authorization to use an MMEL under D095 is much less complex than creating a customized MEL specific to a particular aircraft and obtaining authorization to use it.

The MMEL is a perfectly legal method of deferring maintenance for domestic operations, but using an MMEL could make it difficult to complete a SAFA ramp inspection.

Expert Advice

Tom Atzert, president of Leading Edge Aviation Technical Services, cautions operators about using an MMEL in Europe (or other international destinations), as EASA regulations require an approved MEL and the MMEL doesn’t meet that requirement.

“If the requirement is for an approved MEL, an MMEL doesn’t meet that test, even though it’s permissible in the U.S.,” explained Atzert.

Although Part 91 operators using an MMEL under D095 are not typically sanctioned by EASA inspectors, they are told not to return to Europe without a customized MEL and D195 LOA.

“A D195 takes a little more work, and sometimes you can get push back from FAA inspectors when you request approval for an MEL,” said David Burk, president of Aerodox. “It can be a resource problem for your local inspectors.”

Many operators don’t feel the need to spend resources on a customized MEL when the MMEL is acceptable in the U.S.

“Because flight departments usually maintain their aircraft very well, some people don’t see the point in having an MEL when the MMEL is free and meets minimum requirements,” said Atzert. “However, there’s a benefit in having a customized MEL, especially if you fly internationally.”

MELs Required in Other Regions

EASA isn’t the only aviation authority that requires a customized MEL for each aircraft. China, India and other countries abide by the ICAO standard, which requires a Serialized/customized MEL.

“If you fly to Europe regularly, that can be a real issue,” said Burk. “I don’t want to tell my principal we can’t fly him to Europe next week because we don’t have an MEL for our aircraft.”

Using an MMEL also creates some technical challenges, as the list typically includes several items that are inapplicable to the specific aircraft. An MEL is a much simpler solution, since only items installed on the aircraft are included on the list. Obtaining a D195, approving an aircraft-specific MEL, can also help you avoid trouble during a SAFA check, as an MEL is an acceptable method of deferring repair of listed items when flying to international destinations.


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