I've seen registration numbers like

  • D-ICEY - A Cessna Citation owned by a German company that produces frozen foods
  • G-FILM - An Alouette II helicopter used in some movies and TV series for the flying sequences

and Aviation Humor, for example, lists many other examples like TF-MOM, TF-DAD, TF-SON, TF-KID (all of former WOW Air).

I imagined it might work similar to how license plates for cars are issued in Germany (I know it's different in other countries): Here the first one to three letters are determined by the town/area you live in (e.g. F for Frankfurt). The remaining part is more or less random but you can pick from a list of these random numbers (for a fee of around 20 €).

Does it work the same with aircraft registration numbers and those people simply were lucky because e.g. D-ICEY was still available?

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    $\begingroup$ The first letter (s) before the dash are country code. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Sep 15 '19 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Sanchises Yes, I'm aware of that. D for Djermany (kidding), G for Great Britain. But what about the part after the dash? $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Sep 15 '19 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ Related: How are registration numbers assigned? $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Sep 15 '19 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck D is for Deutschland if you don't actually know $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Sep 15 '19 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck Figured that was probably the case ... but hard to decode humor on text :D $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Sep 15 '19 at 13:09

Aircraft registration numbers are assigned by the country where the aircraft is registered. Each country has a prefix (see the full list on Wikipedia), like e.g. D- for Germany. The prefix is usually separated from the rest by a dash, but some countries deviate from this, most notably the United States, where registration numbers begin with N.

Whether or not custom registration numbers are available depends on the country. In Germany, the authority in charge of assigning registrations is the Luftfahrtbundesamt. It is possible to ask for a custom registration number via the form Antrag auf Vormerkung eines Kennzeichens (§ 19 Abs. 2 LuftVZO). The fee is currently 30 Euros. In order to get the custom registration, it must be available of course, but also follow these rules:

D-AAAA to D-AZZZ for aircraft with more than 20 t MTOW
D-AUAA to D-AZZZ (test registrations) for aircraft manufactured by Airbus at Finkenwerder
D-BAAA to D-BZZZ for aircraft with 14–20 t MTOW
D-CAAA to D-CZZZ for aircraft with 5.7–14 t MTOW
D-EAAA to D-EZZZ for single-engine aircraft up to 2 t MTOW
D-FAAA to D-FZZZ for single-engine aircraft from to 2–5.7 t MTOW
D-GAAA to D-GZZZ for multi-engine aircraft up to 2 t MTOW
D-HAAA to D-HZZZ for rotorcraft
D-IAAA to D-IZZZ for multi-engine aircraft from 2–5.7 t MTOW
D-KAAA to D-KZZZ for powered gliders
D-LAAA to D-LZZZ for airships
D-MAAA to D-MZZZ for powered ultralight aircraft
D-NAAA to D-NZZZ for non-powered ultralight aircraft
D-OAAA to D-OZZZ for manned free balloons
D-0001 to D-9999 for gliders.

So it was at least in part luck that D-ICEY was available and fit the rules for a Cessna Citation.

In the UK, the authority in charge is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which also allows custom registrations (called out of sequence here). The fee is currently £158.

This answer explains the procedure for the US and Canada.

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    $\begingroup$ So it's basically the same as for cars: take what they offer or pick one from a list (for a fee). Thank you. /// Btw, in particular that D-ICEY got my attention because just a few weeks ago it happened to overrun the runway here at the nearby EDFE and has torn down a fence 200 metres past the rwy. No pilot was harmed during this incident (I cannot tell for animals, though). $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Sep 15 '19 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck Some countries allow picking anything that fits the rules and isn't already taken by someone else, not just picking from a short list of random choices as you describe. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Sep 16 '19 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenS To be honest, the way you describe is exactly how it works in Germany for cars. I simplified a bit. Usually you say "I'd like to have my name's initials, e.g. PD" and then they show you a list of what's free with the letters PD in it, given "PD" fits the rules. Your initials, for example, would not be allowed for German license plates. Or you say "I want to end it in 3000" and then they show you a list of those that end in 3000. Often they have a website and you can "play", check, and even reserve a number in advance. $\endgroup$ – PerlDuck Sep 16 '19 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @PerlDuck Interesting. Most US states allow you to specify the entire string, so I could get "STEVE" or "STEPHEN" if I wanted, and are not bound by the current pattern in use for sequential plates.. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Sep 16 '19 at 16:28

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