Over the past several months, we have worked on several cases in which we had to track down airplane ownership information, aircraft registration data and flight information.
Below are some steps you can use to find information about the owner of an aircraft as well as the airplane’s registration data and flight information.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides an Aircraft Inquiry Database to permit users to search for an aircraft by its registration number, owner, serial number or a number of other parameters. The FAA database provides the name of the registered owner, status, and make and model of the aircraft, as well as a number of other details.
The critical piece of information is the registration number. The registration number is often called the N-Number in the United States, as all aircraft whose registration number begins with the letter “N” are registered in the United States. The N-Number is a unique string of characters that identifies the aircraft and is visibly displayed on the airplane, in similar fashion to a license plate on an automobile.
More often than not, the registered owner of an aircraft is a corporate entity or an aircraft trust. These are used to protect shareholders and owners from potential liability issues. Aircraft trusts allow foreign citizens or entities, who do not otherwise qualify under FAA rules, to acquire valid registrations for aircraft.
Discovering the economic owners of a corporate entity should only require pulling some records from the local secretary of state’s office, but it’s often more complicated than that. Finding the owner of a trust is much more challenging and will typically require some type of court order.
Airplane Registration Data
In order to get additional details related to an airplane, you will need to make a request with the FAA. There are several types of documents available from the FAA: registration applications, bills of sale and airworthiness applications. In addition, the FAA also can provide documents regarding any major repairs to the aircraft as well as any changes or upgrades made to the aircraft, such as a major reconfiguration of the interior of the aircraft.
To make these requests, you need to contact the Aircraft Registration Branch of the FAA. You can make the request by phone or online or, if you happen to be in Oklahoma City, you can view the documents in person.
The FAA will send you the documents on paper or on a compact disc, and delivery takes about 10 days. The cost is $10.
Flight Tracking Information
Knowing the N-Number, you may be able to track the domestic and international flights taken by an aircraft. There are a number of data providers that provide information such as live tracking maps and flight status for commercial airline flights and private, general aviation flights. Among the data that is provided are the dates of departure and arrival, the origin and destination of the flight, and the time in the air.
I have tried a number of these data providers, and I have found the most reliable to be FlightAware. Although FlightAware does not keep track of every single flight, they have an enormous database of flight information, mostly for domestic flights. In addition to what is available on the website, they may have additional information stored offline, which you can contact them about.
As mentioned above, not every flight is tracked. FlightAware does not have a complete history of all flights throughout the world, and they do not track flights that originate and land outside of the United States. Also, owners of the aircraft can choose to have the data blocked so that prying eyes cannot obtain details about the plane. It is common for major corporations to block the data to prevent it from being acquired by competitors or activist investors.
Ownership information, flight data and registration information for aircraft can be obtained with a few simple steps. In many cases, however, the ultimate owner of the aircraft can be hidden by a series of trusts and corporations, and flight data can be blocked from prying eyes.