Pursuant to the Federal Aviation Act, only those aircrafts that are registered under the Act can be operated in the U.S. However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule. Accordingly, a person can operate an unregistered aircraft in the U.S. in the following circumstances[i]:
- when such operation is authorized under 49 USCS § 40103(d) or 49 USCS § 41703;
- when it is an aircraft of the national defense forces of the U.S. and is identified in a way satisfactory to the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); and
- when a transfer of ownership is made under regulations prescribed by the administrator of the FAA.
In order to register an aircraft in the U.S., the following conditions need to be satisfied[ii]:
- that the aircraft must not be registered under the laws of a foreign country, that the aircraft must be owned by either a citizen of the U.S., or by an individual citizen of a foreign country having permanent residence in the U.S., or by a corporation that is organized and doing business under the laws of the U.S. or a state, and that the aircraft should be primarily used in the U.S.; or
- that the aircraft is an aircraft of the U.S. government, or a state, the District of Columbia, a territory or possession of the U.S., or a political subdivision of a state, territory, or possession.
Further, the provisions relating to the registration of aircraft in U.S. is cited in 49 USCS § 44103. Accordingly, an aircraft that meets the eligibility requirements will be registered by the administrator of the FAA. Upon registration, the administrator of the FAA shall issue a certificate of registration to its owner. Such certificate of registration will serve as the conclusive evidence of the nationality of an aircraft for international purposes. However it does not serve as conclusive evidence:
- in any proceeding under the laws of the U.S.; and
- in a proceeding in which ownership of the aircraft is in issue.
In Koppie v. Busey, 832 F. Supp. 1245 (D. Ind. 1992), the court held that “under 14 C.F.R. § 47.5(c), when a conflict exists concerning the ownership of a particular aircraft, the examiner must make a determination, based upon the documents he has before him and the applicable law, as to which is the superior claim. The statute, 49 U.S.C.S. § 1401, which allows for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to register “eligible” aircraft “owned” by citizens does not define these terms, and when a conflict exists, the examiner must exercise his discretion in determining whether the applicant owns the plane and whether the aircraft is eligible. The policy behind registration is to insure that the FAA is able to identify properly the owners of aircraft. This is explicit under the statute. A controlling policy may also be set forth through adjudicatory proceedings. Here, title documents must be examined under the applicable state law, supporting the policy that registration is only for identification purposes. In furtherance of these policies, the examiner, when faced with competing claims as to ownership, must make a judgment as to the applicable law and under that law, which is the superior claim. Because Congress’s intent was to create a central clearing house for recordation of titles, the purpose would be thwarted if the FAA did not make a discretionary determination as to who is the owner of the aircraft.”
Apart from the federal statute of registration of aircraft, the statutes in each state also provide for the registration of aircraft. For example, pursuant to Iowa Code § 328.20, every civil aircraft owned either wholly or in part by persons residing in this state, unless specifically excepted under the provisions of this chapter, shall be registered annually with the department, by the owner thereof.
[i] 49 USCS § 44101.
[ii] 49 USCS § 44102.