Missing Airplanes

December 10, 2010 by USA Post 

Missing Airplanes, (AP) – The Federal Aviation Administration lacks basic information about who owns one third of the 357,000 private and commercial aircraft in the U.S. – a gap in the agency fears could be exploited by terrorists and drug traffickers.

The records are in such disarray that the FAA says it is worried that criminals could buy aircraft without the knowledge of government, or using the registration numbers of other aircraft to avoid new computer systems designed to track suspicious flights. He ordered all aircraft owners to re-register their aircraft in an effort to clean up its files.

About 119,000 of the aircraft on the register of the United States have “the dubious record” due to missing forms, invalid addresses, unreported sales or problems in other papers, according to the FAA. In many cases, the FAA can not say who owns an airplane or even if it is still in flight or been scrapped.

There have been cases of drug dealers using false registration numbers of the United States, and cases of mistaken identity in which the police searched the right plan for vice recordkeeping.

Next year, the FAA will start cancellation of registration certificates of all aircraft and 357,000 require owners to register again, a movement that is causing discontent among the airlines, banks and leasing companies. Notices went out to the first batch of aircraft owners last month.

“We’ve identified some potential risk areas, but I think we’re trying to eliminate as much risk as possible by the process of re-registration,” said spokeswoman Laura Brown of the FAA.

The FAA says that safety is not the only reason he needs to update the register. Regulators use to contact owners about safety issues, the states counted on to sales tax and some airports to use billing landing fees. In addition, rescuers use the database to track planes that are missing.

But the FAA has emphasized safety and the angle of law enforcement that the new measure has advanced in the regulatory process over the last two years. The agency says that the gap in the paperwork becomes a bigger problem that the authorities increasingly rely on computers to enhance aviation safety in the wake of 9 / 11 and other terrorist plots.

There have been cases of criminals using U.S. registration numbers, also known as N-or tail numbers, disguising their planes. In 2008, Venezuelan authorities have seized a twin-engine plane with registration number N395CA on the fuselage and more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine aboard.

Shortly thereafter, the aircraft owner Steven Lathrop of Ellensburg, Wash., received a call from a journalist.

“It kind of started the conversation with” Do you know where your plane is? … Your plane in the jungle in South America, “said Lathrop.

Lathrop Piper Cheyenne II XL was locked safely in a hangar at the airport Ellensburg. The smugglers have apparently chosen his tail number because the model is similar to their plan.

“Anyone with a roll of tape can put any number they want on an airplane,” said Lathrop.

Federal law requires that all U.S. aircraft owners to register their aircraft with the FAA and provided with a registration certificate on board. The registration number – all records of the United States begin with the letter N – was painted on the fuselage or tail. The numbers are used on flight plan forms and air traffic controllers to communicate with aircraft in flight.

The amount of missing or invalid documents has been building for decades, the FAA said. Until now, owners had to register their aircraft once, at the time of purchase. The FAA has sent notices every three years to ask the owners to update their contact information, if necessary, but there was no punishment for not doing so. In 2008, there were 343,000 aircraft in the registry. In 2010, the number had risen to 357,000.

The Register of the United States includes 16 000 planes were sold but never updated with the names of new owners, and over 14,000 aircraft which have had their registration revoked, but perhaps because the flight FAA did not cancel their N-number. Other entries are outdated because the owners had died or were totaled in accidents. Some plans are simply shipwrecks corrosion in barns or scrap yards.

Accordingly, there is a “large pool” of N-numbers “that can facilitate the drug, terrorist or other illegal activities, the FAA warned in a 2007 report.

The problem becomes more acute after the government launched a new computer system for tracking flights called automatic detection and processing terminal, or ADAPT, the FAA said. The system combines dozens of databases, from a list of aircraft stolen from the names of diplomats. It flags suspicious flights in red on a map.

Unreliable data in the system has led to cases of mistaken identity.

Pilot Peter Redmond said his Cirrus was searched by officers of Customs and protection of borders in fatigues and bulletproof vests last year in Ramona, Calif. They told him his tail number was confused with he wanted a plane to Florida.

In August, police in Santa Barbara, California, owned flight instructors John and Martha King at gunpoint after federal authorities took their Cessna plane that was stolen in 2002. The Kings are famous in aviation, because they produce and star in a popular series of videos prepared for test pilots.

The error in the Kings’ case was eventually assigned to a database application of the law which references is register with the FAA, not the register itself. But Brown of the FAA called an example of the consequences in the real world of bad record.

“It’s very, very scary,” said Martha King. “If this continues to happen to people, someone will get shot.”

To update the register of the FAA, the agency to cancel all registrations of aircraft over the next three years. The owners have three months to re-register. In addition, the FAA has done with his certificate of registration of a time and takes that to be replaced every three years. Those who fail to reregister will lose their license, and the plan must be grounded.

“We try to model it more on some programs that are effective for cars,” Brown said. “With the renewal process more consistent, you will enter false data much more often.”

Airlines, leasing companies, charter operators and banks agree that there is a problem, but complained of having to repeatedly re-register the aircraft.

The Air Transport Association of America, which represents airlines, warned in 2008 that the measure “has the potential to wreak havoc on the commercial aviation system.” Tuesday, ATA spokesman David Castelveter said companies are still measuring the potential impact of the new rule.

Other groups noted that most had problems with paper are smaller planes that pose little threat of t*rror*sm.

“I do not think we’ll see a tremendous security benefits as a result of this,” said Doug Carr, vice president of the National Business Aviation Association.

Banks and finance companies stand ready to buy used planes will be among the hardest hit, said David Warner, General Counsel of the National Association of Aircraft Finance. Application for a bank to a plane is often related to registration of the FAA, so lenders need to hire more staff and purchase computer systems to track hundreds of aircraft registrations, “said Warner.

He said that the FAA has exaggerated the danger.

“The threat of people who want to harm us is real, but the emphasis on re-registration or registration of stale data on aircraft is not where the risk is likely to be,” Warner said.

Associated Press writer Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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