The FAA’s Position on Aircraft Titles

The civil aviation industry relies on the FAA for plenty of things, including information, certification, and training. While the FAA provides a plethora of resources, it’s important to understand how they handle documentation. Specifically, what is their position on aircraft titles? The answer, quite simply, is they don’t have one.

Aircraft owners, purchasers, and sellers must know that the FAA’s sole purpose regarding titles is to file and record documents, some of which may affect an aircraft’s title. The FAA is a document repository and is not authorized to make any determinations related to aircraft titles. They do not issue certificates of title. They do not issue opinions on the status of a title.

Aircraft Title Reports

Title reports are a review of the records at the FAA, but they are not issued by the FAA. Instead, private companies, such as title companies and law firms, search FAA records to create and issue reports based on their own interpretations of the information found.

Different companies may reach different conclusions based on their research. This can result in conflicting title reports for the same aircraft. For example, a client may buy a plane based on a title search with a clear title. When he or she goes to sell the plane, it is not uncommon for a different title company to report a cloud on the title. In a case such as this, the FAA does not get involved at all. They won’t offer decisions on who’s right and who’s wrong. Buyers and sellers who find themselves in this situation will go back to the reporting companies and work to resolve the discrepancy.

Recordable FAA Documents

In our blog called The Difference Between Filing and Recording Documents, we discussed how documents can affect an aircraft’s title. The standard list of recordable documents that are related to an aircraft’s title includes (but is not limited to) the bill of sale, application for registration, security interests, claims of liens, releases, disclaimers. There is a more complete list of recordable documents on Wright Brothers’ site, but there is also a long list of documents that the FAA will not record.

Searching Aircraft Title Information

The FAA will give some basic title information on their N-Number Inquiry website page. They will give the make, model and serial number of the aircraft. They also provide the identity of the registered owner. However, the only way to know if there are any outstanding liens against an aircraft is to search the entire aircraft record, and the FAA is not in the habit of doing that. Therefore, you will find nothing online telling you if there are any liens against your aircraft. If asked, the FAA will advise you to call a title company or law firm.

There is what might be considered an exception. That pertains to the sale or purchase of an aircraft that will be exported out of the US. This is the only time the FAA will search an aircraft record and make a statement about liens against a title. By law, a plane cannot be exported to a foreign country if a US lender has an interest in that plane without the permission of the lender. So, when the FAA receives a request to deregister a plane, they will search the records to determine internally if there are any outstanding consensual liens against the title. They still will not issue a certificate of title to the public. If the title is clear, they will issue a certificate of deregistration. If not, they will inform the parties involved that they cannot deregister the aircraft. The burden of clearing the title or resolving the issue falls back to the parties involved.

Accessing FAA Records

Obviously, the process of searching aircraft records to produce accurate title reports is not as simple and straightforward as one might think. While the FAA records are public, and anyone can request and receive (by mail) a full copy of the FAA file on any aircraft, not everyone wants to do that. They can be viewed electronically in the Public Documents room at the FAA in Oklahoma City, but this is not easy for those who are not located nearby.

Wright Brothers has offices located at the FAA’s public documents room for the efficient review of FAA records and the timely completion of title reports to clients on a regular basis. We also help with deregistration requests, and when necessary, title clearing services.

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