While the FAA has assured AOPA that steps are being taken to increase staff, the aircraft registration renewal processing time continues to frustrate owners, narrowing the time window to act without risking a lapse.
AOPA's Pilot Information Center staff continues to hear from members who are caught in a bind by the ongoing gap between the supply of authorized FAA staff for processing aircraft registration renewal requests and the demand for those services. As of May 19, the FAA was processing registration applications received in the mail "on approximately December 30," the agency reported online. The processing time has hovered between four and four-and-a-half months for some time, and the longer processing time is the product of several factors.
AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Murray Huling said recent conversations with FAA leadership have produced some encouraging news, though not the immediate relief AOPA members seek.
"The aircraft registry received approval to increase the number of personnel processing aircraft registrations," Huling said, noting the extra staff will help reduce the processing time required for aircraft registration renewals—but it will take time for the change to become apparent. New personnel must be trained for aircraft registration work. While seemingly simple, aircraft registration has stringent personnel requirements with certain positions requiring authorization to examine legal documents, due to the title and ownership verification responsibilities that the FAA has.
A key difference between aircraft and most other vehicles: An expired registration also invalidates an aircraft's airworthiness certificate, and that could have unwelcome consequences should an insurance claim arise involving an aircraft that the FAA does not deem airworthy.
Huling said aircraft owners can help reduce the FAA’s processing times by paying careful attention to detail. FAA advised that the two most common causes of processing delay result from avoidable oversights:
Online renewal tends to speed the process for all involved and is the preferred option for many aircraft owners, though not available to everyone. An online registration renewal requires waiting for a notice from the FAA that is timed to arrive (barring mail delay) at the registered owner's address six months before the current registration expires. The renewal notice contains an essential security code used to file the application online. Any aircraft owner who does not receive the notice, or misplaces it, must add their paperwork onto the pile of mail-in applications
“Aircraft owners that receive the online renewal option with a code should use this preferred method as soon as that reminder is received and no later than five months before the expiration,” Huling said.
The FAA advised Huling that renewal applicants who have not received their registration within 30 days of expiration should contact the FAA. While telephone was the method suggested for that, Huling said there is also an online form that can be used to get a message through to the branch.
Another important form that is found on the main aircraft registration page allows applicants to check the status of their submitted registration application by N-number.
"I'm glad to hear that they got approval to hire more staff," Huling said. He added that by submitting accurate, legible, and complete applications on time, and also ensuring that the owner's mailing address is up to date in the aircraft registry, aircraft owners can help reduce the FAA’s processing time for everyone.