Worried about who’s flying US aircraft? Most Americans since 9/11 certainly are. And it seems you should be. In a report dated June 27, the DOT Inspector General found significant holes in the FAA’s system for registering civil aircraft which could compromise safety and security, especially when so-called non-citizen trusts are used to allow foreign citizens to own and register aircraft in the US. FAA regulations allow only aircraft owned by US citizens or resident aliens to be registered in the US and bear US markings, the so-called N number used to identify US aircraft from foreign aircraft. However, there’s a loophole that allows foreign citizens to register their aircraft in the US and carry a US designator. The loophole allows aircraft to be owned by a trust and if the trust is a US trust with an American trustee, the actual owner (beneficiary) can be of any nationality in the world. This allows non-U.S. citizens to have their aircraft registered on FAA’s Registry and bear US markings. As long as the trust meets US citizenship requirements, the FAA does not look beyond that to citizenship of the beneficiaries (e.g. foreign owners).
According to the IG’s report, the FAA’s aircraft registry “ lacks accurate and complete information needed for aviation safety and security measures. The Registry lacks information on registered aircraft, owners—including non-U.S. citizens—and their compliance with FAA regulations.”
The Inspector General further found: “ incomplete registrations for about 5,600 aircraft, or 54 percent, owned under trusts for non-U.S. citizens. As a result, FAA has been unable to provide information on these aircraft to foreign authorities upon request when U.S. registered aircraft are involved in accidents or incidents in foreign countries, as required by the Convention on International” type=”section” active=”true” key=”/international” natural_id=”channel_2section_66″>International Aviation.”
The FAA’s response to the IG was that it agreed that there was a problem with the information provided by non-citizen trusts. The FAA stated that it began its own policy review in part because of problems it had obtaining important operational and maintenance information from non-citizen trusts but that it had fixed the problem in policy guidance it issued last week. That policy guidance basically suggests a two-day time-period for American trustees to provide the FAA with current and accurate information on who is actually operating the aircraft.
The IG scoffed at the FAA’s latest policy stating: “ For the Registry to meet this purpose, FAA must collect this information as part of the registration process so that is available to users when they need it. Consequently, the new policy does not ensure that FAA will have the information it needs for proper safety oversight.”
Certainly when terrorist threats are high enough to apparently warrant the extensive security measures recently revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, it would seem that the FAA would want to have accurate information on the identities of all owners and operators of US-registered aircraft, especially those owned by non-citizen trusts.