FAA's Aircraft Data in Disarray

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it is taking "proactive" steps to clean up its database of aircraft in the U.S. after The Associated Press reported that about a third of U.S.-registered aircraft, or up to 119,000 planes, have "questionable registration."

Missing is paperwork, and some of what is filed has invalid addresses and other problems, the FAA says.

In some cases, aircraft owners have died or the aircraft were destroyed in accidents. In others, the owners changed their address or simply failed to re-register, causing the FAA to lose track of the aircraft.

Over the next three years, the FAA says it will scrap the registration certificates of all 357,000 U.S.-registered aircraft and will require both commercial and private aircraft owners to re-register.

The registration number is painted on the tail or fuselage of the aircraft, and the certificate must be carried on board.

Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, tells AOL Travel News that aircraft owners have been aware of the new registration rule for three years, but it is just taking effect.

"Most of the aircraft the FAA can't account for are probably right where they belong," he says. "They may even be at the same airport."

Dancy says the group acknowledges the registration issue raises a security concern. But he says it's "not necessarily a security problem."

The greater security issue, he says, is "pilot intent," not the aircraft itself.

David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group that represents major airlines, tells AOL Travel News that the industry is "in the very early stages" of the new registration process, so "it is premature to conclude the impact" of the FAA's action.

He adds that it so far has "not caused any operational issues."

Although there are concerns that terrorists and drug traffickers can exploit the flaws in the database, sources say that a greater danger may be that an unregistered aircraft could stumble into a bad situation.

For example, over the years, several aircraft have inadvertently flown into the restricted Washington airspace and fighter planes have been scrambled.

And AP reports that two flight instructors who produce and star in test-preparation videos for pilots were detained by authorities at gunpoint in August when their Cessna was mistaken for a plane that was stolen in 2002.

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