The Certificate of Registration is a legal document required by international convention (ICAO), and requires the aircraft's registration to be marked on the exterior of every civil aircraft. The registration is an alphanumeric code to identify a single aircraft, which also indicates the country of registration of the aircraft, and must be displayed when the aircraft is in operation.
An aircraft can only have one registration in one jurisdiction. However, the registration can be changeable over the life of the aircraft from one country registry to another.
Which Country has the Most Registered Aircraft?
The United States has the largest registry with 46,157 aircraft, or 42% of the world’s aircraft fleet. Table A lists the ‘Top 15’ countries that together account for nearly three quarters of the registered aircraft worldwide, per JETNET records.
The total includes commercial airlines, business aircraft and helicopters. This list does not include all General Aviation aircraft.
China ranks second on the list, representing 5% of the worldwide total of over 110,800 registered aircraft as of January 2020. However, further analysis shows that the count includes 73% commercial airliners. Just 8% are business aircraft and 19% are helicopters on the China register.
Canada is third on the list with less than 5,000 registered aircraft, representing 4% of the worldwide total. Of those, the percentage split is 29% commercial (scheduled airline), 28% business aircraft and 43% helicopters.
What is the US FAA’s role in Aircraft Registration?
In the US, when the Cape Town Treaty was ratified, the FAA registry system was not replaced by the International Registry (IR). Instead, the treaty made the FAA registry an exclusive entry point. After filing the registration application (FAA Form 8050-1) and bill of sale (FAA Form 8050-2) with the FAA registry, the FAA provides the IR with a ‘code’, upon request, using FAA Form 8050-135.
That code is then entered into the IR system creating a dual registry system: One is governed by international law, the other by domestic US law. Both are required in order to properly protect the ownership of an aircraft.
Are all Registries Alike?
The IR started accepting the registration of aircraft, spare engines and helicopters on March 1, 2006. As of December 31, 2018, there were 74 Parties to the Cape Town Convention and Aircraft Protocol. Registrations increased by 3.4%, from 131,562 to 136,020 the previous year. This was the highest number of registrations recorded since the IR went live in 2006.
There are 54 manufacturers that regularly supply the Registry with updates of the manufacturer serial numbers (MSNs) of airframes, helicopters and engines. The cooperation of manufacturers in supplying this information to the Registry was arranged through an Aviation Working Group.
As a result, 384,399 MSNs are now stored on the Registry system. This information is electronically supplied to registering users. The use of such information, where supplied, is mandatory under Section 5.1 of the Regulations.
How Many Countries Have an Aircraft Registry?
Table B shows the countries, by continent. The number of aircraft registries in 2009 was 192 and had grown to 209 in 2019. The largest region of growth for aircraft registries in Australia/Oceania, with an increase of seven registries during that timeframe.
There are more aircraft registries than countries today because some registries are not sovereign entities under international law. So, for example, there are 12 British (i.e. Isle of Man and Guernsey), and three Netherland colonies that have individual registries.
Which Registry Grew the Fastest Between 2009 and 2019?
Table C lists selected country registries by continent, highlighting registries with strong growth or decline in the number of registered business aircraft between 2009 and 2019.
During this period, there was a 13.2% growth of registered business aircraft (jets and turboprops). Specifically:
- Africa:15.1% growth (334 additional registered business aircraft)
- Asia:29.3% growth (880 additional registered business aircraft)
- China grew from 83 to 421 (338 additional registered business aircraft)
- Philippines grew from 45 to 113 (68 additional registered business aircraft)
- Australia & Oceania:23.7% growth (254 additional registered business aircraft)
- Europe:Experienced the lowest rate of growth (8%), with 567 additional registered business aircraft)
- Malta grew from 12 to 190 (178 additional registered business aircraft)
- UK declined from 402 to 325 (77 fewer registered business aircraft)
- Other European countries to decline were Spain, Switzerland, and Ukraine
- North America: 11.1% growth (5,068 additional registered business aircraft)
- United States grew from 19,194 to 23,575 (4,381 additional registered business aircraft)
- South America:28.5% growth (1,346 additional registered business aircraft)
What are the US Aircraft Registration Rules?
According to the FAA, an aircraft is eligible for US Registration if it is not registered in another country and it is owned by:
- An individual who is a US citizen
- A partnership whose partners are both US citizens
- A corporation or association…
- Organized under the laws of the US or a State, the District of Columbia, or a US territory or possession,
- Of which the president and at least two-thirds of the board of directors and other managing officers are US citizens, and
- In which at least 75% of the voting interest is owned or controlled by persons that are US citizens.
- An individual citizen of a foreign country lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the US
- A US governmental unit or subdivision
- A non-US citizen corporation organized and doing business under the laws of the US, or one of the States as long as the aircraft is based and primarily used in the US (60% of all flight hours must be from flights starting and ending within the US).
How Long is an Aircraft Registration Certificate Valid For?
In the US, the Re-registration and Renewal of Aircraft Registration final rule was published in the Federal Register on July 20, 2010. This rule provides that aircraft registrations issued on, or after October 1, 2010, will be good for three years with the expiration date clearly shown.
Registration certificates (AC Form 8050-3) expire every three years after an aircraft was registered, last renewed, or when any of the following occur:
- The aircraft is registered under the laws of a foreign country
- The aircraft is surrendered to the FAA (revocation, cancellation)
- The aircraft is destroyed or scrapped.
A security code provided in the notice enables on-line renewal and payment of the US$5 renewal fee when there are no changes in ownership, address, or citizenship to report. If there are changes to report, the form can be completed online, printed, signed, and mailed with the $5 fee.
Fees for outside the US (ICAO) include:
- Controlled entity set-up fee (1 year) US$180
- User set-up fee (1 year) US$200
- Registration fee US$100
Do Aircraft Registries Have Aircraft Age Limited Rules?
There are no age restrictions on aircraft registered in the US, Canada, Mexico, EU or Australia. And while the Russian Federation has no restrictions, as a matter of practice it may be more difficult to register an aircraft that’s more than ten years old in the Russian Federation.
Age limits tend to be arbitrary and have the consequence of restricting the importation and operation of viable and economic aircraft.
Maximum age: Most countries have no restrictions for aircraft importation, but airworthiness standards are to be met. Countries with aircraft age limitation examples include:
- China (15 years)
- Egypt (22 years)
- Ethiopia (22 years)
- India (18 years)
- Indonesia (10 years)
- Saudi Arabia (20 years)
- South Korea (20 years)
- Thailand (16 years)
- Turkey (15 years)
A Closing Word of Caution
A financing or leasing institution may be reluctant to allow the aircraft to be registered in the carrier's home country (either because it does not have sufficient regulation governing civil aviation, or because it feels the courts in that country would not cooperate fully if it needed to enforce any security interest over the aircraft), and the carrier/operator is reluctant to have the aircraft registered in the financier's jurisdiction (often the US or UK).
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