Security forces in Guatemala detected a plane entering airspace on 4 Nov 2021. They followed through and found it abandoned, with evidence that it transported illegal drugs. After an assessment by military technicians, Guatemalan government authorities ordered the burning of the aircraft one day later because it was not deemed safe to fly (unclear if it was because of the terrain or other). Not mentioning this controversial way of disposing of such major evidence so soon, my question is, what is the proper protocol in the US regarding abandoned aircraft of recent model that are not deemed safe to fly? Are there FAA regulations about the matter? What US authorities would do in such scenario as the one in Guatemala? My question specifically pertains to aircraft.

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    $\begingroup$ That's more a legal question about property seized/confiscated by police, the fact it's an aircraft likely has no impact. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Nov 7 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ As the answer below demonstrates, there are some unique aspects to aircraft that don't apply to other things that law enforcement might seize. Voting to leave open accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Nov 7 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ Taking the existing answer into account, I agree with @mins; the idea that logbooks may make a difference, does not make it a decision handled by an aviation authority (just explaining my vote; not debating other opinions). $\endgroup$
    – ymb1
    Nov 7 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ “Seized” and “abandoned” are completely different legal categories. But again, they have legal definitions and disposition of property will depend on jurisdiction. I am confident in saying that nothing in 14 CFR deals with these distinctions. Standing by my vote that this is a more a legal than aviation question. $\endgroup$ Nov 7 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ You just gotta find the right place to ask! There is a legal stack exchange… $\endgroup$ Nov 7 at 20:27

Short Answer: If the case is closed and the plane is neither airworthy nor evidence used in a case where the death penalty was issued, the US government has a full process for destroying it (outlined here).

If the log books were found with the aircraft it may be recovered, depending on the state in which they find the aircraft. In the US, property seized by the government in drug related cases can, in some instances, be auctioned off. The issue with aircraft is that in order for them to be deemed "airworthy" (what I assume you mean when you say "safe to fly") you would need the log books to prove that the aircraft is compliant with all relevant maintenance history and AD's.

Often maintenance logs are not stored in the aircraft as they can get lengthy and heavy over time and there is no requirement to have them onboard. So if the government seizes an aircraft that say, flew into the country illegally, there are likely no logs with it. Factory overhauls of engines can reset this (for engine logs) but that can be costly. Reconstructing airframe logs can be quite a difficult (if not impossible) task. So again, with out the logs the airframe is likely prohibitively expensive to bring the airframe back to airworthy condition but it may be liquidated nonetheless for far less than an airworthy example. Similarly with out the logs you cant even part the plane out since you cant add valid parts tags to the parts without knowing the service history. Interior trim and other non airworthy related parts can be pulled and sold without the tags but thats not really where the value is.

Interestingly in this case the aircraft was seized before being delivered to El Chapo and according to the article will be auctioned off so they presumably seized it with the Log Books.

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    $\begingroup$ I don’t know why you say the airplane is worthless. Planes come on the market all the time with missing logs because they burned up, the owner died, or they were repossessed. The value is much less and it’s expensive to redo all the ADs but, in the US, Part 91 flying doesn’t have any limit on time in service for engines and parts. There are a few piston aircraft that life-limited parts, like Cirrus parachutes, but that can be dealt with by replacing the parts. There may be some oddball airframes with time-in-service limits but I’m not aware of any. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Nov 7 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JScarry I as always under the impression that generally going back through all the AD's and zeroing the engine out was broadly more expensive than a plane of similar vintage and condition. Im sure there are exceptions for rare airframes etc. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Nov 7 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ What is the meaning of AD? $\endgroup$ Nov 8 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ @freethinker36; AD = Airworthiness Directive some are optional but some are mandatory and if that is the case the work needs to be preformed and a log book entry needs to be made. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Nov 8 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Dave For Part 91 flying there is no need to zero out the engine—TBO not a limiting factor. Fly it until it starts making metal/won’t pass compressions. AD compliance could be a problem on some airframes but with the insane aircraft prices right now its probably worth it if you get a good deal on the aircraft. As a data point, my 1968 Cherokee has 25 ADs most of which are just an inspection. A lot no longer apply because the part has been replaced: Carburetor, ignition. One requires replacement of oil hoses every 7 years so would have to be done. Probably no more than $3000 to comply with all. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Nov 8 at 17:01

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