FAA missing key data on one-third of the nation's planes

Agency defends IT in missing records

The Federal Aviation Administration is missing key registration information on one-third of the commercial and private aircraft in the United States, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Of the approximately 357,000 registered planes in the U.S., approximately 119,000 have missing registration, the AP said. That coule make it easier for drug smugglers and possibly terrorists to use lost or stolen plans or just registration numbers to mask what they are doing.

In a report from CNN, Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that “the missing registrations are a security concern, but probably not a security problem." 


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"Most of these planes are probably right where they're supposed to be," Dancy said. "The FAA has just lost track of them through lost paperwork or the database not being updated or the owners not answering the triennial survey that the FAA sends out."

Aircraft registration includes a plane’s “N-number,” akin to a license plate on an automobile. The number is displayed on the plane’s tail and on the fuselage.

The FAA had a press release in July outlining a re-registration plan. The plan is to re-register every aircraft in the United States within the next three years and then every three years after that. The FAA sent notices to the addresses in their database but found that often plane owners were either dead or not at the address on the prior registration.

"The problem with aircraft owners is that they tend to be mobile people," said Laura Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the FAA. "It is more a question of getting people to update the registration. If someone was not at the address we sent it to, the card would get sent back as undelivered."

Brown said that the problem was not one specific to the FAA's IT department and there was no sure IT solution that could have helped the FAA maintain registration records. Brown did not have the specific information on what type of IT and records management system the agency uses.

"It is not so much a problem with the IT end of this," Brown said. "It would have been great if we did have that type of solution, but we didn't."

Some observers do not think that this will be a great concern or that the re-registration of all private and commercial aircraft will thwart terrorists or drug smugglers.

"The drug traffickers and terrorists don't follow the rules anyway," said pilot Paul Salmon to KFVS News Channel 12 in Missouri.  "They could care less if the aircraft is registered or otherwise. Most likely they would either steal an aircraft or go rent one that would be properly registered."

Dancy told CNN that the AOPA made recommendations to the FAA that did not include canceling registrations but that the FAA decided that was the best way to handle the situation.

“We offered some suggestions when the [FAA announced the re-registration] to try to make it a little less burdensome,” Dancy said. “But the fact of the matter is that the database is woefully out of date. It does need to be brought up to date. We thought it could be done without canceling current registrations. The FAA decided canceling was the best way. It's now the law of the land.”

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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