50,000 U.S. Airplanes Disappear

Just over three years ago the FAA began the process of updating registrations for all U.S. aircraft. The new registrations transitioned from “permanent” registration to requiring registration renewal every three years. One of the goals of this process was to update the list of aircraft that were still active in the U.S. aviation system.

At the end of September 2010, the day before re-registration began, there were 359,942 aircraft on the Civil Aircraft Registry, according to the FAA. At the end of December 2012, the most recent end-of-quarter date, there were 342,937 aircraft on the Registry, a reduction of more than 17,000 tail numbers.

Many more aircraft are likely to “disappear” as the registration renewal process continues. An FAA representative indicated the agency continues to work with a list of expired aircraft that may need removal from the FAA Civil Aircraft Registry. While the FAA's first priority is to maintain prompt turnaround on regular registration and re-registration document processing, officials continue to work on cancellation of expired registrations as workload allows. On March 1, this list included 36,803 aircraft. If these aircraft are processed out of the system due to expiration, it would leave us with just 306,134 aircraft in the U.S. Aircraft Registry, a drop of more than 50,000 tail numbers.

Tracking how many aircraft are in the U.S. aviation system is important. It helps us understand the activity level and the capacity our system currently maintains. Completion of the re-registration process can help the aviation industry better gauge the real number of aircraft that are active within the system.

Currently, there remains a fourth group of re-registration to be completed (aircraft in this group will expire in March, June, September, and December). A little over three-fourths of the re-registration has already been completed, giving us a good idea of what our registration dropout rate is going to look like in the end. The difference from the beginning of the process to now represents an approximately a 15 percent drop in the number of registered aircraft in the U.S. aviation system.

Jason Blair is a flight instructor and an FAA designated pilot examiner, and an active author in the general aviation and flight training communities.

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