If you want to learn about an aircraft that is in sight while you are at your computer or phone, you may be able to get a shortcut to its information by viewing your area on a flight tracker such as FlightAware.

In the US, the FlightAware map shows the aircraft that are currently airborne. Clicking on an aircraft’s icon can show you its current flight plan and its registered owner, but that information is only available if the owner does not mind that you see it. Owners can arrange for flight plan privacy with the FAA, blocking their aircraft information from appearing on trackers. Even if you find aircraft information from a private flight tracker, you can only be sure it is accurate once you confirm it with public records.

To find records on a civil aircraft registered in the US, you begin your search with the FAA aircraft inquiry database.

Searching for Registered Information on a US-Based Aircraft

You can search the FAA registry database by 14 separate fields, including:

  •  The aircraft’s N-number—its FAA registration ID
  •  The aircraft’s serial number
  •  The engine’s make and model
  •  The aircraft’s make and model
  •  State and county, which provides a comprehensive listing of all aircraft registered to owners in each county
  •  Territory and country, which lists all aircraft registered to foreign addresses in the FAA database
  •  Recent registrations (within the past 30 days)
  •  Expired or pending registration cancellations

The Make/Model field is a good place to start if you only have a sighting of the aircraft to go on. Using this field to search (for example) “Cessna 172” shows how many Cessna 172s, including the model subtypes, are registered in each state. When you click on the state you are interested in, the resulting aircraft are listed in numerical order by their N-number, showing the names and addresses of their owners.

For further information on a particular aircraft, copy its N-number, return to the search page, and enter that into the N-Number field. This will open the specific record. In the N-registry, the owner of an aircraft and their registered address are public information, together with details about the craft itself, such as its airworthiness and fuel modifications. Additionally, it indicates whether the named owner is a fractional owner of the aircraft. The FAA also registers documents that are on the public record but not available online, such as bills of sale and mortgages, and you may order copies.

But how do you find further information on the owner if the aircraft isn’t registered to an individual? Many craft are owned by corporate entities or LLCs. Such entities are often created specifically to hold assets and may not have web presences to tell you more about them.

To learn more about a corporation or LLC, you can check the public records of its home state. These are usually available on the website for the state-level Secretary of State or Department of State. For example, you may find out that the registered owner of a particular craft is Por Ejemplo LLC, with an address in Florida. The Florida Division of Corporations (part of the Department of State) provides a searchable database that will show you the LLC’s registered agent and authorized managers. If the entity is a corporation, you will find more information about the corporate members and structure.

However, there is a limit to how helpful public database information can be. You may find that the members of the corporation or LLC are themselves corporations or LLCs, and if you are seeking an individual to contact, this can be frustrating. The aircraft may also be leased out, making it difficult to tell who was operating it at any given time. Additionally, foreign operators may have an aircraft registered in the US through a “non-citizen trust” (NCT) in which the registered owner in the US holds the aircraft in trust for the operator, who is not publicly named.

Searching for Information on a Foreign-Registered Aircraft

If you see an aircraft with a registration ID number that does not begin with an N, that is a foreign-registered craft. By international law, all civil aircraft must be registered with an appropriate civil aviation authority (CAA). Every country’s CAA uses a different designated prefix for its registration numbers. Some of the CAAs of the world also have online public databases for civil aircraft, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

The International Registry of Mobile Assets records financial interests in aircraft and separate aircraft components, allowing interested parties to check their title and history. Searching the International Registry requires an upfront fee, however, and it may have no relevant information for you. It only accepts registrations applying to airframes and helicopters over a specific size, as well as aircraft engines.

If you need to search for further details about an aircraft’s ownership, consider the situation. Are you interested in buying or leasing the aircraft? Concerned about its safety? Worried about a potential conflict with the operator? Our Florida aviation attorneys will understand what you need to know and what your next steps should be. Contact Aero Law Center today at (954) 869-8950 for a free consultation.