The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

Summary: For years the FAA's database more closely approximated a brown supermarket bag filled with receipts than an actual, you know, database.

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Sometimes, it's tough to decide who to mock.

For example, do we mock the FAA for the decades of horrible record keeping practices its used for tracking private aircraft, or do we mock the FAA for now having a situation where it's effectively lost 119,000 aircraft?

Either way, we're going to mock the FAA. It's just a question of whether its current workers are more mockworthy, or all those who came before them.

Yes, your tax dollars are at work.

Here's the basic story. All airplanes that fly in the United States are supposed to be registered with the FAA. Think about how your car is registered with the DMV, and you get the idea.

Each plane has a tail number (beginning with 'N' in the U.S.) and this number is the plane's official number, used to tie it to the database that the FAA maintains for all planes.

Except, apparently, for years the FAA's database more closely approximated a brown supermarket bag filled with receipts than an actual, you know, database.

Planes were registered once, when purchased. FAA rules required aircraft owner to update registration once every three years, but there were no penalties for not doing so. As a result, information on hundreds of thousands of aircraft hasn't been updated since the original sale.

Let's recap before we mock: the FAA requires aircraft registration, but many smaller aircraft haven't updated their registration information evar and no one's forced them to do so.

What does that leave us with? Well, a whole lot of unaccounted-for planes. A whole lot of planes that can't be traced to their proper owners. A whole lot of planes that could be used for smuggling or even terrorist activity because air traffic and the FAA can't really tell who owns what.

It'd be funny if it weren't so disturbing.

Now, I'm a big believer in giving credit where credit is due, and our current FAA does deserve some credit. They've decided to take the difficult PR hit and admit this is a problem and start to fix it.

They're requiring all planes to be re-registered, beginning next year, so, presumably, a few years from now, the FAA will have a much more comprehensive database of what's actually in the air and who owns what.

So there's that.

You'd think, though, that increasing the security of our skies would be a good idea and everyone would support the FAA's new-found sense of responsibility. You'd think that, wouldn't ya? You would. I would.

But guess who's all pissy about the extra work of registering the planes?

That's right. The banks.

Our old friends, the banks. These guys are all crying and whining because they have to now match purchase and lease data with actual aircraft, many of which haven't been accounted for since The Bay of Pigs invasion.

Sweet. The government actually comes up with a best practice for insuring better national security after years of negligence and who's fighting it?

The banks.

Didn't we just bail those suckers out with government (read: taxpayer) money? Maybe they should be more willing to do their actual jobs and quit whining about the same government that bailed their butts out.

Gotta love them banks.

Topics: Travel Tech, Banking, Government

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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43 comments
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  • I going to start keeping my money under my matress

    in coin of course, just in case ther's a house fire. ;)
    John Zern
    • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

      @John Zern

      Better to keep those coins in _my_ house in case the fire gets too hot :-)
      cwallen19803@...
  • But just wait til a multimillion dollar financed plane gets stolen ....

    and the FAA can't find it because the bank didn't re-register it!
    It seems to always be the other guy's problem!
    ;-)
    kd5auq
  • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

    Will the FAA think ahead enough to do more than register the planes? Does anyone compare the reg numbers given to flight control to the actual numbers on the plane when it lands? Will there be a look-up to verify the number actually belongs to that plane? Will maintenance records be part of the database? Do pilots have to show a license when using an airport?

    It seems there is more scrutiny of trucking and CDL drivers than there is of planes that can become missiles targeted on just about anything.

    A real danger is that the prejudice against general aviation (privately owned planes) will be built into the new database and regulations to make it even harder and more expensive to be part of general aviation.
    EJC05262
    • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

      @EJC05262 Very good points. Thank you!
      David Gewirtz
      • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

        @David Gewirtz

        The Republicans love the security part of this, but will never approve it. They tend to back themselves into these kinds of corners all the time... you know, the era of big government is over.

        EJC05262 is right, there is more scrutiny in other transportation industries. To implement what's required means more staff and resources at the FAA - something that the Republican's won't allow. It's either that or increase aviation taxes to pay for it, another no no with the Tea Party hammering the new Congress to avoid.

        Course, it you tag this as National Security - it'll get done at a price tag of unknown zillions of dollars... and then blame the democrats anyway....

        As this unfolds, General Aviation will suffer another blow in the U.S..
        doug.hanchard@...
      • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

        "As this unfolds, General Aviation will suffer another blow in the U.S.."

        Undoubtedly true, as the array of corrupt organizations, individuals, and just plain selfish jerks lined up against it are many and its defenders relatively few. Yay, let's destroy an irreplaceable part of our national transportation system to make another developer fatter. Or make a piddly one-time dent in some local budget while permanently losing jobs, access, and yet another thing that once made America great.

        For some reason people love to join the lie campaigns against GA. Look at the breathless headlines: "FAA loses 100,000 planes!" Utter feces.
        dgurney
    • yes

      The tower or ground controller sees the plane's number when it lands. It's going to be noticed if they clear so-and-so to land, and then see some other plane rolling by.<br><br>What no one is talking about in this is the fee hike that goes with this registration drive. The FAA is taking the "PR hit" (which is pretty overblown, because this situation has been known for years) in exchange for a significantly higher registration fee. It's currently $5, but will go to at least $45.<br><br>From AirVenture: "Once the three-year re-registration process concludes, the FAA expects the registry to have only a 5-to-6-percent error rate."<br><br>So these planes aren't "lost." Enough with the asinine fear-mongering.
      dgurney
      • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

        @dgurney

        Yes, you all better be worried about people who are rich enough to own planes and to pay for fuel, but can't spend $45 on re-registration every 3 years.

        Poor, poor private plane owners!!! Next they will be living on their streets, and where will they put their plane then?
        richardw66
    • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

      @EJC05262
      As a retired Air Traffic Controller, I can tell you that WE don't check pilots licenses OR their registrations. Upon contact with any ATC facility, their call sign is used only to establish communication and is then filed away most likely never to be seen again. Rarely would anyone even notice if the tail sign number is the number that the pilot used in his communication.
      Watersisland
  • Reminds me of Dumb and Dumber...

    "That's better than money sir....those are I.O.U'S."
    jasonp@...
  • Silly story

    The position you took with this story is silly.

    Yes, the US should have an accurate db for aircraft registrations for no other reason than it is strange cars are accurately registered, but an aircraft that costs more money, and requires more skill to operate safely does not. It is also an act of transparency that you should be able to "know" who owns/operates an aircraft.

    But claiming this is an issue of national security, or that it will help prevent terrorism is stupid. Criminals bent on enticing terror have used large aircraft loaded with paying passengers, because everyone can relate to being a passenger on that aircraft. Renting a small to medium aircraft and running it into even a large building would put on a big show, but still not have the same impact.

    If a criminal wants to buy or lease a plane to scare people with, they'll have a legitimate looking front company, or use a sleeper that has no known reason to be a suspicious buyer, and this FAA registration database won't give them one moment's pause, concern, or delay.
    colinnwn
    • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

      @colinnwn They get their funding by moving large amounts of drugs around, drugs that can't always be found on the ground...

      That money helps them scale to larger operations.
      scott2010au
      • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

        @scott2010au

        Once again, a minor detail like current and correct aircraft registration will not slow down drug smugglers using aircraft. The aircraft will now be (and probably already is to limit discrepancies that raise attention) registered to a legitimate looking front company.

        If a smuggler needs to disguise a plane they are worried is being tracked, they'll need to repaint the whole aircraft at a minimum, and make up a registration number.

        Unless there is a FAA rep at each of the over 10,000 small, midsize, and large airports in the United States, that scrutinizes the registration of every plane that lands, and detains pilots with discrepant registrations, updating this database will do nothing to prevent the use of aircraft as instruments of terror, as a tool for funding illegal activities, or to increase our national security.

        This is a lot like gun registration laws. Criminals don't comply, or they find ways to look legit, only law abiding citizens follow the law.
        colinnwn
      • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

        @scott2010au

        If the au in your name indicates your country, then maybe when you talk about guns you should consider what happens when a crazy person carries a gun and visits the wrong house - as happened yesterday in Australia!!!

        OK - this is Australia where gun registration is mandatory and where guns are much harder to get than the US - but just think how much more of this would be happening in Australia if we had US style gun 'freedom'?

        Compare the rate of homicides in Australia with the US - and then tell me that gun licensing does not lead to a safer place to live!!!

        And compare the ability of law enforcement to track down the perpetrators of gun crime in the US with Australia!!

        What happens if a car is involved in a crime? If someone reads the number plate then that information is used by the police in solving the crime. Not registering cars would make a difference.

        There is a lot of evidence that registration helps.

        There is no real sense in arguing that because registration can be faked that it is useless, because in the real world it works in most cases.

        In your hypothetical world, sure, everything can be bypassed so it all means nothing - enjoy your meaningless world!!!
        richardw66
  • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

    Years ago a late friend of mine bought a wrecked Taylorcraft.

    He carefully rebuilt and recovered it, but did he register it? Nope. He just picked out a plausible tail number, painted it on and flew it. He flew it for ten or twenty years without the FAA ever knowing about it.

    Why? Well, the FAA would want to inspect the log books and see that all the work was done by licensed mechanics, and he did the work himself. He was a great mechanic, and had worked in an aircraft factory, but he wasn't a LICENSED mechanic.
    CodeCurmudgeon
    • not great

      While I sympathize with the do-it-yourselfer and am one, if you're dealing with an airplane you need to strap it on and have the thing signed off by a, yes, LICENSED mechanic. Not to mention that the FAA can pull a ramp check on you at any time, and if you don't have said log books you're screwed.

      Not to mention that you're flying over people's homes, and while that's not as big a deal as some asshats would have you believe, it does warrant due care.
      dgurney
  • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

    This whole uproar is very silly, as is the idea that we are less safe becuase the FAA lost track of these planes. Even if the FAA had the complete database, anyone with spraypaint and ducktape could change the registration number on any given plane to something else. Also, when communicating with ATC, all tailnumbers are self reported anyway, thats just how the system works. It is exceedingly rare that the FAA will do a "ramp check" of a GA airplane, but its also very had to get access to a plane without verification of your credentials.

    At the end of the day, this whole controversy is being sensationalized by people who aren't involved in aviation.
    jedi3335
    • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

      @jedi3335
      Bravo!
      szettervall
    • RE: The FAA lost 119,000 planes and all we got was this lousy form

      @jedi3335 "but its also very hard to get access to a plane without verification of your credentials"

      Actually, it's not that hard to get access to general aviation planes, especially at GA airports. Even teenagers can and have done it, e.g. Colton Harris-Moore (aka 'the Barefoot Bandit') http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colton_Harris-Moore. You just do it when no-one is looking.

      Also, most single-engine GA airplanes were likely built with no better theft prevention than cars at their time of manufacture. Since 84.4% were built in 1980 or before (49.4% in 1970 or before), they have little to no significant theft deterence built in other than the challenges of flying them. I agree that this is mainly a crime investigation headache, not a significant national "security" issue.

      Age data is calculated from "Aircraft age distribution, single engine piston aircraft, 2006 (table/graph)", NTSB Annual Review of U.S. General Aviation Accident Data 2006 (publlished 2010) http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2010/ARG1001.pdf (page 13).
      Dave S2