I'm surprised this hasn't been asked before but I could find any question on here for it.

Who picks the tail number for a new aircraft?

Is it automatically assigned by the authorities you are registering with or can the new owner pick any number as long as it's not already I use?

If it's auto generated by the authorities, can you purchase the equivalent of a custom car registration plate if you want a specific number?

I've tagged CAA but would be interested to know if the FAA is the same.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ For the FAA, you can pick a specific N number as long as it isn't registered or already reserved. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 16:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Ron Beyer is correct. There have been interesting law suits over N-numbers... an early one was N1KE $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


In the US, aircraft numbers are requested or reserved from an available list by the aircraft owner: N-Number Availability Query. Then the owner, the manufacturer in the case of new aircraft, submits an application for registration with the reserved or available number.

This order of events (to reserve then request assignment) is important as registration numbers are applied to the aircraft, recorded in logbooks, programmed in computers, etc. before the aircraft certification is complete.

In the US, aircraft manufacturers reserve blocks of registration "numbers" long in advance of manufacture. A registration request is made to the FAA on the appropriate form at which time a registration examiner at the FAA determines the legitimacy of the request: whether the number is assigned or available to be assigned to the aircraft as requested.

The Canadian process is the same. Available Marks

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It isn't always the manufacturer that submits an application for registration for new aircraft. If you buy your new GA aircraft through a dealer, the dealer will submit the registration information. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's the owner that signs the original application for a number to be assigned. Any owner can make an application with another number. That owner may be a dealer, an individual, the builder, manufacturer, etc. $\endgroup$
    – STWilson
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 17:48
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Having bought and accepted delivery for quite a few new aircraft, it's all driven by what paint is on the plane, and is the N number available. More than one factory has assured me that if I give them a number by 5PM, it will be on the plane the next morning. It is noteworthy that N-numbers can be juggled between planes. Only the serial number is sacred, and even then I wonder sometimes. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 18:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .