Grounded: Don’t let your aircraft registration expire

April 14, 2011

A little piece of paper, and a little information, could mean the difference between your aircraft being grounded or good to go for that next flight. It’s your aircraft registration certificate. The FAA is updating its aircraft registry and is requiring pilots to re-register their aircraft on a specific, pre-set schedule.

Sorting through the re-registration timetable

The FAA’s scheduled aircraft re-registration process is already under way. The agency allows six months to complete each re-registration, but a rigid timeline must be followed:

  • One month for the aircraft owner to receive the notice from the FAA.
  • Three months to re-register online or by mail.
  • Two months for the FAA to process the paperwork. (The FAA already is working on a five-week backlog.)

Here’s a recent example from the group of aircraft owners that just completed the re-registration process. Aircraft owners whose aircraft has a registration date of March of any year before 2011 should have received a letter in October 2010 about the re-registration process. That notification included a three-month window from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, for the re-registration to be completed online or mailed. The FAA just finished the two-month processing period on March 31.

So, if you didn’t get your “March” aircraft re-registered, you are not legal to fly today. And that’s the case for a few thousand aircraft owners.

Some 8,800 aircraft registrations lapsed on March 31 as the deadline for the first round of re-registration passed. AOPA does not know how many of these lapsed registrations are inactive aircraft. However, based on actual contacts from AOPA members, some of these represent active aircraft that are now grounded by the FAA’s re-registration process. Members have reported submitting their re-registration applications after their three-month window closed but before the March 31 deadline and are caught in the five-week backlog.

With the re-registration window drawing to a close for aircraft registered in April, owners should complete the re-registration form as soon as possible and by the end of this month. Don’t risk waiting longer. With the FAA’s backlog, you could end up grounded.

Owners whose aircraft are registered in May should be on the lookout for a notice from the FAA. You should have received it at the beginning of April. If you did not, check your registration information online with the FAA to see if your mailing information is current.

If your aircraft registration was issued in April of any year, you must complete the re-registration paperwork online or submit a hard copy to the FAA by April 30. You should have received a letter from the FAA in January that contains the re-registration notice, along with the code you are supposed to use when you re-register online. If you do not submit your re-registration by the end of April, your aircraft could be grounded at the end of June when your current registration will expire—spoiling those Fourth of July family flying getaways you may have been planning.

Even though your aircraft registration will still be good until June 30, you must submit your re-registration by April 30. Submitting it any later could create problems because the FAA already has a five week backlog of aircraft registrations. If submitted after that deadline, the agency will not guarantee that the aircraft owner will receive the new registration by the end of June. That means your aircraft could not be flown legally at the end of June until the new registration is received.

To ensure re-registration goes smoothly, aircraft owners who do not need to make any changes to their aircraft’s registration should complete the online re-registration form. Note that you must re-register within your assigned window ( see chart). The FAA will not allow owners to register their aircraft ahead of time, said Rodney Martz, AOPA Pilot Information Center senior specialist. Additionally, the online re-registration form will not permit owners to update their information once their re-registration window has closed. Owners then would need to complete a hard copy of the form and send it to the FAA, running the risk that their current registration would expire before receiving the new one.

Martz also encouraged pilots to check their physical aircraft registration certificate, or the FAA website, for the original month in which their aircraft was registered; while many owners remember when they purchased their aircraft, the actual registration date ranges anywhere from 30 to 60 days after that.

The FAA is requiring re-registration because the aircraft database is substantially out of date, creating security concerns among government agencies. It also creates airworthiness concerns when safety data can’t be mailed to the current owner. About 17,000 aircraft have been reported sold by their previous owner without the new owner filling out a new registration form, Martz said. Although this rule is new to pilots, the concept isn’t all that different from what other vehicle owners already do.

“It’s really just like our auto or truck annual and biennial registration in your home state,” Martz said during an AOPA Live interview. “Now it’s going to be federal for your aircraft as well, but it’s on a three-year basis.”

Aircraft owners who seek assistance in sorting through the re-registration process can contact AOPA’s Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA). If your want a concierge service to track and handle the re-registration paperwork for you, or if you have neglected some registry documents along the way, you can contact AIC Title Service for help at a fair price.

The key, whether re-registering yourself or with AIC Title Service’s help, is to meet the deadline set for your registration window. Otherwise, your aircraft could be grounded.