by Rick Braunig
Manager of Aviation Safety & Enforcement
MnDOT Office of Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2020 issue
A few years back the FAA started a new program to track where aircraft are based. The FAA made a significant investment to gather this information. The FAA now has a database of based aircraft for all airports eligible for federal funds except those with commercial service. It is detailed enough to pick out when the same aircraft is listed as located at two different airports. Occasionally, we will see a snowbird aircraft listed as based at an airport in Minnesota and another airport in Florida. The based aircraft program is found at a website creatively named: basedaircraft.com. Airport managers need a password to access and update the information which they can get at that same website.
When an airport lists an aircraft as based at their airport, they list the N-number, the aircraft type/make/model and the owner’s information. The FAA provides a report by airport that shows this information on the left side of the report and corresponding FAA information for each N-number shows up on the right side. There is a lot we can learn from looking at this report. Occasionally a Cessna 172 in the airport information will show up as a Boeing 747 in the FAA data. I assume this is because a ‘5’ and an ‘S’ look similar as do a ‘1’ and an ‘I’. It is also possible that the number entered in by the airport manager does not exist in the FAA database. Knowing that N-numbers are always numbers and then letters can help an airport manager to catch some errors. There is also an easy look up site for aircraft information at: https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/.
In looking at these reports it is not uncommon to see that the owner listed by the airport is different from the owner shown on the FAA registry. It used to be that once an aircraft was registered, that registration never had to be renewed. In 2010, the rules changed so that aircraft registration has to be renewed every three years. So, if you have an aircraft that was built in the 1980s and the registration wasn’t updated at each sale, the re-registration paperwork was sent to the owner in the FAA database which could be three or four owners prior to you. We’ve been through more than one round of the three-year renewal cycle, so now I’m seeing a lot of aircraft where the FAA says the N-number was deregistered. The FAA says that in these cases where you don’t have a valid registration number, that the aircraft is unairworthy. Remember that website for looking up N-numbers? If you haven’t seen reregistration paperwork, I recommend looking up your N-number to see who the FAA has as the owner. The registration fee is only $5 and keeping your registration current can prevent other events that are much more costly.
For airport managers, knowing who owns what aircraft and which hangar they are in can be a great time saver. Occasionally a pilot will forget to close a flight plan and the FAA starts looking for them. If they can’t reach the pilot, the next call is to the airport where they were headed. About half of all the flights made by your tenants are to your airport, so there is a good chance they are calling you. Knowing which hangar to look in allows you to figure out pretty quickly if the aircraft is at your airport. Of course, it does you no good to know the hangar if you can’t get into it. Minnesota Statute 360.018 gives certain officials the right to examine buildings and other structures on an airport. We encourage airports to include a right of access to all buildings in their leases regardless of who owns the building. As part of the emergency action plan, airport managers should also do an inspection of hangars annually to ensure that they don’t turn into fire hazards.
From the aircraft owner’s view, having the airport manager understand your aircraft and your operations allows them to serve you better. If you have a regular flight that departs early mornings and there has been snow the night before, the airport manager could put your taxilane earlier on the plow list to allow you to keep your schedule. If the airport manager knows you, it is easier for them to tell if something is out of the ordinary. If someone else is accessing your hangar, if your hangar door is open when you are not around, if someone else is getting into your aircraft and if they see these things, they should have a good number to contact you.
There is one more reason why it is important for the airport manager to know about your aircraft and that is funding. The FAA provides non-primary entitlement dollars to airports that are eligible for federal funds, but do not have commercial service. This is normally $150,000 a year that each airport can tap to pay for eligible projects. These funds are important to the health of the airport. The FAA will normally fund around 90% of eligible costs on projects like runway reconstruction or extensions. If the number of based aircraft falls below 10, the FAA has started taking away access to those dollars. So, help your airport manager to keep the based aircraft report up to date to help keep your home airport in good shape.