The FAA’s Aircraft Registry continues to face slowdowns, in part due to unprecedented demand for registry services, ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and an ongoing system upgrade. In fact, in response to the pandemic, the Civil Aviation Registry has discontinued walk-in visits.
“Private aircraft demand is at unprecedented levels,” noted Jeffrey Peier, an aviation attorney at Klenda Austerman LLC. “Despite the FAA’s best efforts, it has fallen behind in processing aircraft registrations and other conveyances. What used to take a few weeks is now taking months. The FAA has been doing the best it can.”
“Despite the FAA’s best efforts, it has fallen behind in processing aircraft registrations and other conveyances. What used to take a few weeks is now taking months.”
Jeffrey Peier Aviation Attorney, Klenda Austerman LLC
The registry is currently about six months behind in processing requests. Most transactions are processed and filed in order of receipt.
Aircraft must have a valid certificate of registration to operate legally. An exception outlined in 14 CFR 47.31 provides a new owner with temporary authority to operate an aircraft for 90 days within the contiguous U.S. after filing for a registration change, so long as the owner carries a copy of the filed aircraft registration application on board the aircraft.
In order to fly beyond those 90 days, the owner must submit a letter to the registry office requesting an extension, which is usually granted for up to 180 days. An owner may request a letter of extension by emailing the Aircraft Registration Branch.
Experts caution aircraft owners and operators that flying without a valid registration, or a temporary authorization to conduct operations without a valid registration, are not compliant with regulations and may subject the owner and operator to civil and criminal penalties.
Import/export transactions and aircraft that will be flown outside the 48 contiguous U.S. states may still receive expedited service, but even that processing time has been extended from normally one day to a couple of days.
The registry office slowdown can lead to concerns for lenders and buyers at closing. Experts say that when multiple transfers of ownership occur in a short period of time, a title report might show documents have been filed with the Aircraft Registry office but not processed. If an error in the previous filings is discovered at a later date, the current owner must track down the parties to the previous transactions to file corrected documents.
In some cases, those parties no longer exist. For example, aircraft are sometimes owned by special-purpose companies such as trusts, or other arrangements are set up temporarily solely for the purpose of the aircraft transaction.
A 2019 DOT Inspector General’s report recommended that the FAA modernize its aircraft registry system.
“The new system should greatly expedite the processing of documents and reduce the requirement for FAA personnel to complete certain functions,” said Scott McCreary, practice group leader of McAfee & Taft’s Aviation Group.
Parties to aircraft transactions should be aware of delays at the FAA Aircraft Registry and have plans to mitigate the impact of those delays.
NBAA is monitoring delays at the FAA Aircraft Registry office and will keep members apprised of changes to the aircraft registry process.