Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine June/July 2021
If you wake up in the middle of the night and see that on FlightAware your airplane is not where you left it, and fear that it might have been stolen, don’t panic. First, go to your airport and look to see if it is there. If not, then call law enforcement and notify the Federal Aviation Administration. But if your aircraft is at your airport where it belongs, chances are either the owner of another aircraft or an air traffic controller abbreviated an aircraft’s call sign to be your N number when they last made a radio transmission.
One would think that with ADS-B transponders, such a mix-up would be impossible, but apparently whatever air traffic control uses for an N number is what is recorded in the system and is what FlightAware uses.