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In the Wikipedia page about aircraft registration prefixes, we can see that North Korea has P-500 to P-999. Does that mean that it’s only allowed 500 planes? What happens when the registry is all used?

(Oddly enough, I visited that Wikipedia page after reading an article about Star Trek’s starship Enterprise, also on Wikipedia.)

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  • $\begingroup$ This is for civil, not military, aircraft registration, so 500 might actually be plenty for North Korea. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 13 '20 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ Even if they don't have that many, I'm not sure DPRK would follow an international designation from an organization they aren't a part of. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Dec 13 '20 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer They’re a member of both ITU and ICAO. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Dec 13 '20 at 3:44
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Civil aircraft tail numbers almost always follow ITU radio prefixes. North Korea has been allocated six ITU prefixes: HM and P5-P9.

Many countries with consecutive 2-letter prefixes will move the dash so it looks like they have a 1-letter prefix, but they still only use the allowed subset. So in this case, rather than P5-00 to P9-99, they write P-500 to P-999. They could have just as easily chosen P-50000 to P-99999 if they wanted, or gone alphabetic for even more possibilities.

However, in practice North Korea only has a handful of very old civil aircraft. While there is a humanitarian exception for spare parts to keep their airlines safe, the country can’t buy any more planes, which means they don’t need more tail numbers than they’re currently using. Heck, they could probably knock off a digit and still have more than they need!

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