The EU Ramp Inspection Programme is a European Programme regarding the performance of ramp inspections on aircraft used by third country operators (SAFA) or used by operators under the regulatory oversight of another EU Member State (SACA).
The Programme is regulated by Commission Regulation (EU) No 965/2012 and it provides for the inspection of aircraft suspected (based on e.g. safety relevant information collected by the Participating States or on regular analysis of the centralised database performed by EASA) of non-compliance with the applicable requirements (either international safety standards or EU standards). Ramp inspections may also be carried out in the absence of any suspicion, in this case a spot-check procedure is being used.
The applicable legal framework of the Programme contains the following:
- Commission Regulation (EU) No 965/2012 of 5 October 2012;
- Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMC) and Guidance Material (GM) to Part-ARO, consolidated version, issue 3, Amendment 10 - 16 September 2019; and
- Ramp Inspection Manual (RIM), Issue 1, 20 March 2019.
The EU Ramp Inspection Programme has replaced the EU SAFA Programme and has two major components:
- SAFA ramp inspections (for third country operators); and
- SACA ramp inspections (for community operators – checked against EU standards).
In each Participating State, aircraft of operators under the safety oversight of another Member State or of a third country can be subject to a ramp inspection, chiefly concerned with the aircraft documents and manuals, flight crew licenses, the apparent condition of the aircraft and the presence and condition of mandatory cabin safety equipment. The applicable requirements for these inspections are:
- The ICAO international standards for aircraft used by third country operators;
- The relevant EU requirements for aircraft used by operators under the regulatory oversight of another Member State;
- Manufacturers’ standards when checking the technical condition of the aircraft; and
- Published national standards (e.g. Aeronautical Information Publications (AIPs)) that are declared applicable to all operators flying to that State.
These checks are carried out in accordance with a procedure which is common to all the Participating States. Their outcome is then subject to reports which also follow a common format.
In case of significant irregularities, the operator and the appropriate Aviation Authority (State of Operator or State of Registry) are contacted in order to arrive at corrective measures to be taken not only with regard to the aircraft inspected, but also with regard to other aircraft which could be concerned in the case of an irregularity which is of a generic nature. All data from the reports as well as supplementary information are shared and centralised in a computerised database set up and managed by EASA.
The main features of the EU Ramp Inspection Programme can be summarised as follows:
- its application by all Participating States – notably all ECAC States (EU Member States, non-EU ECAC States as well as non-EU States that have signed the EASA Working Arrangements);
- the broad dissemination of inspection results through a centralised database;
- its bottom-up approach: the programme is built around ramp inspections of aircraft;
- non-discriminatory approach: obligation for the participating EU Member States, that in addition to third country aircraft, to inspect EU aircraft as well, on the basis of the EU requirements;
The Participating States engaged in the EU Ramp Inspections Programme are: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, 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, Qatar, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Republic of North Macedonia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.
However, ramp inspections are limited to on-the-spot assessments and cannot substitute for proper regulatory oversight, thus, they cannot guarantee the airworthiness of a particular aircraft. Where irregularities have an immediate impact on safety, inspectors can demand corrective actions before they allow the aircraft to leave.
The European Commission and Participating States are informed of any potentially safety hazards identified. They come together with EASA and Eurocontrol regularly in the Air Safety Committee meetings (ASC) and the Ramp Inspections Coordination and Standardisation (RICS) meetings. As of 2010, EASA is also organising yearly the Industry & Regulators Forum in Cologne, whereby states and aviation industry representatives meet to discuss issues of common interest in the ramp inspections area.
EASA’s role in the EU Ramp Inspections Programme
EASA is responsible for coordinating the RAMP inspections programme. The specific role and responsibilities of EASA in the EU Ramp Inspections Programme are:
- to collect by means of a centralised database the inspection reports of the Participating States engaged in the EU Ramp Inspections Programme;
- to develop, maintain and continuously update the centralised database;
- to provide necessary changes and enhancements to the database application;
- analyse all relevant information concerning the safety of aircraft and its operators;
- to report potential aviation safety problems to European Commission and all the Participating States;
- to advise the European Commission and all the Participating States on follow-up actions;
- to propose coordinated actions to the Commission and to the competent authorities, when necessary on safety grounds, and ensure coordination at the technical level of such actions;
- to liaise with other European institutions and bodies, international organisations and third country competent authorities on information exchange.
How are ramp inspections performed ?
Authorised inspectors are using a checklist with 53 inspection items during ramp checks. The checks may include pilots licenses, procedures and manuals carried in the cockpit, compliance with these procedures by flight and cabin crew, safety equipment in cockpit and cabin, cargo carried in the aircraft and the technical condition of the aircraft. As the time between arrival and departure (the turn-around time) may not be sufficient to go through the full checklist, not all 53 items may be inspected. It is the Programme policy not to delay an aircraft except for safety reasons. Some oversight authorities of the Participating States engaged in the EU Ramp Inspections Programme carry out random inspections while others try to target aircraft or airlines that they suspect may not comply with the applicable standards.
The absolute number of inspection findings represents an important outcome of the inspecting process which provides valuable information on the subject aircraft or its responsible operator. On the other hand, this needs to be carefully taking into account in relation with the “severity” of the findings. To this end, 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. The prime purpose of categorising the findings is to classify the compliance with a standard and the severity of non-compliance with this standard.
The inspections and the categories of findings are recorded in the centralised database.
When considering the findings established during a ramp inspection, Category 2 (significant) and Category 3 (major) findings require the highest attention when it comes to the need for rectification. Based on the category, number and nature of the findings, several actions may be taken.
If the findings indicate that the safety of the aircraft and its occupants is impaired, corrective actions will be required. Normally the aircraft captain will be asked to address the serious deficiencies which are brought to his attention. In rare cases, where inspectors have reason to believe that the aircraft captain does not intend to take the necessary measures on the deficiencies reported to him, they will formally ground the aircraft. The formal act of grounding by the State of Inspection means that the aircraft is prohibited from resuming its flights until appropriate corrective measures are taken.
Another type of action is called “corrective actions before flight authorised”. Before the aircraft is allowed to resume its flight, corrective action is required to rectify any deficiencies which have been identified.
In other cases, the aircraft may depart under operational restrictions. An example of such a restriction would be the case where there is a deficiency regarding passenger seats. Operation of the aircraft is possible under the condition that the deficient seats are not occupied by any passengers.
It is standard practice that the captain of the aircraft which has just been inspected is debriefed about the findings. In addition, Category 2 and Category 3 findings are communicated to the responsible Aviation Authority for information and to the home base of the operator with the request to take appropriate action to prevent reoccurrence.
In order to achieve best the objectives of the EU Ramp Inspections Programme, close cooperation with the Aviation Authorities of all those States whose operators and aircraft have been subject of ramp inspections is imperative. As part of their responsibility regarding the safety oversight of their national operators according to the relevant international safety standards, these Aviation Authorities are requested to ensure proper implementation of corrective actions in order to address the reported findings.
In some cases, when the findings on an aircraft are considered important, individual Participating States may decide to revoke the entry permit of that aircraft. This means that the particular aircraft is no longer allowed to land at airports or fly in the airspace of that State. Such a ban can be lifted if the operator of the aircraft proves that the problems have been properly addressed and corrected. Such entry permit repercussions can therefore be, and usually are, of a temporary character.
As regards such bans and their subsequent lifting, those Participating States which belong also to the European Union shall be acting in accordance with the provisions laid down in Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005 on the establishment of a Community list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within the Union.
Pursuant to the requirement set forth by the Commission Regulation (EU) No 965/2012, the Participating States are also including the centralised database information on their follow-up actions. This information allows assessing the ability and willingness of operators to rectify the findings identified during ramp inspections and it used in the subsequent analyses of the generated data.
The backbone of the EU Ramp Inspection Programme is the centralised database, which is managed and maintained by EASA, in Cologne, Germany. The inclusion of reports in the database remains a responsibility of the individual Aviation Authorities of the Participating States.
Data contained in the database is confidential and therefore shared only with other Participating States and not available to the general public. The database can be accessed by all Aviation Authorities of the Participating States via the (secured) internet. At present, all Aviation Authorities are connected on-line to the database. In addition, read-only access is provided to the European Commission and ICAO.
EASA is performing regular analysis of the centralised database. The regular analysis is conducted every 3-4 months, with the aim at identifying safety concerns and worrying trends which should be addressed before they become a threat to the safety of international aviation. Since September 2011, Operators and their Aviation Authorities (NAAs) can register online to that database; obviously, the access is limited to ramp inspection reports on their own aircraft. Since the user management is delegated to the local Aviation Authorities, these authorities need to have obtained access to the database before the operators can register themselves. Once the operator and/or the NAA has access, any follow-up information on the inspection can be uploaded to the database; this lowers the burden of the administrative workload considerably. Details on the registration process can be found in the FAQ document available at the login page of the SAFA database.
SAFA ramp inspection report database
Any questions related to the database access should be addressed to the local authorities; the contact details for the centralised database coordinators within those Aviation Authorities having access to the database can be found in the download section of this page.
National coordinators have been appointed by the competent authorities of all the Participating States. The main role of a national coordinator is to ensure the day-today coordination of the programme at national level in order to facilitate the appropriate implementation of the programme.
The specific tasks of a national coordinator should include the following:
- entering ramp inspection reports into the centralised database;
- prioritising ramp inspections in accordance with the applicable provisions;
- nominating national representatives for the ramp inspection working groups;
- acting as a focal point for the training schedules (initial and recurrent training) for all involved national ramp inspection staff;
- ensuring that all staff involved in ramp inspections are properly trained and scheduled for recurrent training;
- representing the Member State at the meetings of the Ramp Inspections Coordination and Standardisation group (RICS) on ramp inspections;
- promoting and implementing the inspector exchange programme;
- providing support in handling requests for disclosure of data;
- ensuring distribution of new legislation and latest versions of procedures to ramp inspection staff;
- organising regular meetings with all ramp inspection staff to maintain a high quality standard;
- implementing a national ramp inspection quality control system;
- managing the access of national operators and the competent authority’s staff to the centralised database;
- act as a sectorial focal point in the domain of ramp inspections in the context of standardisation activities performed by the Agency;
- proposing appropriate team members for ramp inspection standardisation visits;
- provide information to the Agency, the Commission and the Member States on contacts with authorities and operators.
Historical overview and aggregated reports
The SAFA Programme was initially launched by the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) in 1996. The Programme was not based upon a European legal binding basis, but upon a commitment of the Directors General of the participating ECAC Member States. The scope of the inspections performed on ‘foreign’ aircraft involved those aircraft which were not used or operated under the control of the inspecting competent authority.
On 30 April 2004, the Directive 2004/36/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council on the safety of third-country aircraft using Community airports (the so-called 'SAFA Directive') was published, creating a legal obligation upon EU Member States to perform ramp inspections on third country aircraft landing at their airports, where ‘third country aircraft’ implied aircraft not used or operated under control of a competent authority of an EU Member State. Nevertheless, the Directive didn’t prohibit in any way EU Member States from inspecting aircraft from other EU Member States. EU Member States were provided with a transition period of two years for transposing and implementing the above mentioned Directive.
Until 2006, the operational elements of the SAFA Programme were implemented by the Central Joint Aviation Authorities (CJAA). At the end of 2006, the SAFA coordination activities, including the centralised database, have been transferred from CJAA to EASA.
As of 1 January 2007, following a decision by the Directors General of ECAC Member States, the SAFA Programme was transferred under European Community (EC) competence and the responsibility for the management and further development of the EU SAFA Programme falls upon the European Commission assisted by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
The continued participation of the 15 non-EU ECAC Member States, and thus the pan-European dimension of the programme, has been assured through the signature of Working Arrangements between each of these individual States and EASA.
In addition, similar Working Arrangements have been signed with several non-European States (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Morocco, Qatar, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom) and a further non-EU ECAC Member State (Montenegro).
On 28 October 2012, the Implementing Rules on Air Operations entered into force as the new legal basis for the EU ramp inspection programme, replacing the original system established by the SAFA Directive and its implementing regulations with a new system represented by the new EU Ramp Inspections Programme.
The Commission Regulation (EC) No 965/2012 puts an obligation on EASA to prepare for the Commission on a yearly basis a proposal for a public aggregated information report regarding the information collected from the Participating States. The aggregated report is published by EASA in the English language.