FAA loses track of 119,000 aircraft – FAIL

There are about 357,000 commercial and private aircraft with registered ownership in the US. Aircraft ownership registration is the responsibility of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),  part of Ray LaHood’s Transportation department.  Given that Ray is in charge, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the FAA has “lost track” with a third of the aircraft registered in the US – kinda like how DHS lost 1000 computers and other property (more here). Seriously, how the hell can you lose track of a third of a fleet of aircraft for crying out loud? I suppose it’s not too hard for government. (story here)

The Federal Aviation Administration is missing key information on who owns one-third of the 357,000 private and commercial aircraft in the U.S. — a gap 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 planes without the government’s knowledge, or use the registration numbers of other aircraft to evade new computer systems designed to track suspicious flights. It has ordered all aircraft owners to re-register their planes in an effort to clean up its files.

About 119,000 of the aircraft on the U.S. registry have “questionable registration” because of missing forms, invalid addresses, unreported sales or other paperwork problems, according to the FAA. In many cases, the FAA cannot say who owns a plane or even whether it is still flying or has been junked.

Already there have been cases of drug traffickers using phony U.S. registration numbers, as well as instances of mistaken identity in which police raided the wrong plane because of faulty record-keeping.

Faulty record keeping – ooops! In some cases the consequences have almost gotten people killed.

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

Pilot Pierre Redmond said his Cirrus was searched by Customs and Border Protection agents in fatigues and bulletproof vests last year in Ramona, Calif. They told him his tail number had been confused with that of a wanted plane in Florida.

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

The error in the Kings’ case was eventually traced to a law-enforcement database that is cross-referenced with the FAA’s registry, not to the registry itself. But Brown of the FAA called it an example of the real-world consequences of bad recordkeeping.

“It’s very, very scary,” Martha King said. “If this keeps happening to people, somebody’s going to get shot.”

Oh well, I guess the solution to this mess is to make everyone re-register their planes so we can fix our database.

Airlines, leasing companies, charter operators and banks agree there is a problem but have complained about having to repeatedly re-register planes.

The Air Transport Association of America, which represents airlines, warned in 2008 that the measure “had the potential to wreak havoc on the commercial air transportation system.” On Tuesday, ATA spokesman David Castelveter said airlines are still gauging the potential effect of the new rule.

Other groups noted that most of the aircraft with paperwork problems are smaller planes that pose little terrorist threat.

“I don’t think we’re going to see a tremendous security benefit as a result of this,” said Doug Carr, a vice president of the National Business Aviation Association.

Banks and finance companies that hold loans used to buy planes will be among those hardest hit, said David Warner, general counsel for the National Aircraft Finance Association. A bank’s claim to an aircraft is often tied to the FAA registration, so lenders are having to hire more staff and buy computer systems to track hundreds of aircraft registrations, Warner said.

Another FAIL brought to you by big government. Don’t worry, you’ll still get your bonuses

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