Why Donald Trump’s plane isn’t registered with the FAA

In the overblown story department, the New York Times’ revelation that Donald Trump is illegally flying his jet on the campaign certainly qualifies.

It makes for a great headline that isn’t really supported by great drama.

Dozens of those flights were made after Jan. 31, when the registration expired. The plane flew as recently as Monday, when it was used to transport Team Trump between La Guardia Airport and Buffalo for a campaign event on the eve of the primary in New York. On Friday, it flew to Plattsburgh, N.Y., and to Hartford for rallies in those cities, according to radio transmissions broadcast by the plane that were archived on a flight data website and reviewed by The Times.

The F.A.A. warned Mr. Trump that the Cessna’s registration was set to expire, records show.

How could it be that a plane is no longer registered? Easy. Stop at any big or small airport, and there’s a fair chance you’ll find people who don’t know they have to renew their plane’s registration, because up until a few years ago, they didn’t have to.

Up until 2010, once an aircraft registration was assigned, it lasted forever without renewal. That year, the FAA announced it would cancel all registrations over a three-year period and owners would have to register them every three years.

The reason is the FAA has lost track of how many airplanes in the nation were actually still around. By requiring registration, the theory goes, the FAA will have a better idea of the size of the country’s aviation fleet, big and small.

The cost for registration? $5. That assumes you get the renewal notice from the FAA, which many pilots don’t because planes changed hands all the time and there was no mechanism — or at least incentive — for owners to keep the names and addresses of owners current.

Of course, the registration has nothing to do with the plane’s suitability to fly. Registration has nothing to do with the mandated maintenance and inspection schedule.

What the lack of registration could provide, is a means for the anti-Trump crowd to make life slightly more aggravating. They can take his registration number and force him to spend the money to repaint the plane with a new one.

However, the FAA isn’t making that easy. By its own rules, the FAA will only hold a registration numbe for 30 days after expiration. So time should be up for N725DT (which consists of the address of Trump Tower and his initials), whose registration expired in January. But the FAA is not allowing anyone to claim it as their own, a task that would also require only $10.

  • PaulJ

    That thing is a Cessna?

  • This is YUUUGE!!! YUUUGE I tell ya!

    /Not really

    • jon

      Where the heck is he going to get $5 for the registration?
      No way his campaign can recover from this!

  • Mike Worcester

    //Up until 2010, once an aircraft registration was assigned, it lasted
    forever without renewal. That year, the FAA announced it would cancel
    all registrations over a three-year period and owners would have to
    register them every three years.

    When I sell my car, the registration has to be transferred to the new owner. What was the rationale for that never being done with planes?

    (And yes I am taking the politics out of this since it seems silly. Just my take on it)

    • Because states — oddly enough — are better at shaking down drivers than the feds are for shaking down pilots?

      • jon

        Pilots should be a difficult group to shake down, they spend much of their free time being up, and turbulence is the best thing for shaking them. 🙂

      • Mike Worcester

        Honestly I was surprised that prior to 2010 there had not been a system for tracking the registrations. Is this a holdover from some bygone era of Fly Free Or Die? 🙂

        • Ha. Well there’s nothing free about it but maybe the theory is the sky doesn’t’t belong to anybody.

          • Eddie Klein

            Neither do public highways.

          • Well they do, actually. And they require maintenance and upkeep. So do runways and the air traffic control system, of course. That’s paid for by a fuel tax. And also the state of MN requires airplane owners to pay a personal property tax.

  • Jeff C.

    Is the story behind the story (Trump, who has boasted that he is very organized and that is what helps makes him qualified to be president, has ignored multiple notices that he needs to renew his registration and that his failure to do so could result in the grounding of the plane, fines of up to $277,500 and three years of prison time.) the real story?

    • Pretty much The story is the person who grabs the mail at the company that actually owns the plane (and which probably owns many of them ) didn’t take the 30 seconds to go online and pay the $5 registration. Kind of like drone operators who haven’t registered. Big yawn.

      Oh, and the Times needed a story to make Trump look bad on primary day in New York, of course.

      • Eddie Klein

        Trump looks bad every day; the Times doesn’t need any help in that regard.
        Also – Trump owns a total of four aircraft (the Cessna, a 757, and two helicopters) through an LLC of which he is the sole member, and his campaign has paid himself over $3 million dollars for using his own planes so far.

        As far as I know, there are no drone operators running for President of the United States. Stop yawning.

        • You don’t like Trump. I get that. That’s up to you. But if you’re down to the failure of someone to pay $5 for someone bureacrat to add three more years to a spreadsheet, it doesn’t impress me.

      • Big John

        Newspapers once were named after the party or ideology they supported. Over time the party labels went away but they never stopped being partisan. You would not have had to write this article if the New York Times was named the ‘New York Democrat,’ as they ought to be.

      • Henk_sg

        Like he doesn’t hand them a story that makes him look bad EVERY day of the year.

      • Dyb

        It does make him look bad. And if he doesn’t want to look bad then he shouldn’t surround himself with incompetent people. Donald actually owns his own plane. How many people who work for Trump are responsible for maintaining that plane so that it can be available at a moments notice? Also, the way you continue to trivialize is interesting. Comparing a Billion Dollar corporation to some individual who owns a drone, who by the way is not running for President of the United States. Big corporations just don’t have some person who “grabs mail at the company”. Is it okay to ignore the law because it was only a $5 fee?

  • Gary F

    Bob, is your plane up to date?

  • Sue

    I can’t believe it costs more for me to register my 1992 Honda than a expensive airplane.

    • Your registration fee has a different purpose. It funds a transportation infrastructure for automobiles. The infrastructure for airplanes has a different funding mechanism than from registrations.

      If it makes you feel any better, the personality property tax, maintenance, insurance, and cost of operation for an airplane is much higher than for your ’92 Honda.

  • Erik Goodwin

    The author of the story is wrong about air worthiness certificate, if registration is expired the airworthiness certificate is considered ineffective, not current, it does not have to be surrendered, but it is not active, so it actually is a very big deal, look it up on the FAA website. When registration is renewed, unless the air worthiness certificate has had to be surrendered, or is out of date, it then becomes effective again.

    • I never said the airworthiness certificate is valid. But the process of registering an airplane takes about 10 seconds. It’s not a big deal. it’s not a big scandal. It’s a minor oversight affecting nobody but the bureaucrats.

      In other words, “meh”.

      • Erik Goodwin

        Flying without a valid airworthy certificate is a big deal, to think it isn’t is a big deal is a problem. You did say that it had nothing to do with the planes suitability to fly, which is not true, it is not suitable to fly without an airworthy certificate. I for one know that Donald trump does not deal with this mundane stuff, and he hides himself from liability in ways that he owns the plane, but does not own the plane. I do not think anyone should be held accountable for something that someone else is accountable for, but people seem to only want to apply that to the ones they like and back, so as long as you haven’t used the logic with other politicians that they should be held accountable for something done by someone else, then you are not a hypocrite, but my guess is that probably isn’t true.

        • I’m referring to its ability to fly safely, not its legality.in the eyes of the FAA.

          The registration requirement, by the way, unlike your automobile, isn’t a legislatively approved requirement. The FAA simply put out a memo one day and it was put on airport bulletin boards all over the nation and that was that.

          • Dyb

            How is that any different from SEC rules or regulations? Another federal government authority that is responsible for regulating and enforcing federal securities laws? Would it be a ‘meh’ if Goldman Sachs forgot to renew one of their Trading licenses and continued to Trade?

          • No unlicensed pilots operated any airplanes, which is what the equivalent of your analogy would be.

      • Eddie Klein

        It affects anyone who lives somewhere that a plane might fly over, Bob. How would you feel knowing that the car next to you on the highway was unregistered and uninspected?

        • Registration has nothing to do with inspection. It also has nothing to do with safety, as the article mentioned. There are VERY specific requirements for the maintenance and inspection of airplanes but they’re not related to requiring the payment of $5.

          In fact, there’s no requirement for an inspection to even get a plane registered.

          There is no correlation between a plane flying over your house and whether the owner of Donald Trump’s airplane PayPalled his $5.

          • Eddie Klein

            You really ought to do your homework before you post inaccurate information. You can’t register and fly a plane in the United States without an airworthiness certification, just as you can’t register a car and drive it without a valid inspection sticker. In fact, the airworthiness certificate is MORE important than the registration. I know that registration has nothing to do with safety. An unregistered vehicle is not inherently dangerous; while an uncertified vehicle is by definition dangerous. You have to go through all of those “VERY specific requirements for the maintenance and inspection of airplanes” before a plane can leave the ground. Trump didn’t. Even with his mouth closed his mere presence is a public danger.

          • You know I own an airplane, right? You have to register the the airplane before you can apply for the airworthiness certificate. The registration is entirely separate from anything FSDO and MSDO requires.

            You’re correct hat the airworthiness certificate is much more improtant than the registration.

            In matters of aviation, “uncertified” applies to a very specific set of things. It’s not even remotely a synonym for unregistered.

            If you’d like to stop by the hangar, I’d be happy to walk you through the entire process.

            None of that is very important in this story. Trump’s plane was registered. It simply expired. The fact his other planes are current betrays the suggestions he was somehow flaunting a rule (not a law, BTW. Rule)

          • Dyb

            He has a total of 2 jets and 2 helicopters. How does this betray the suggestion that he was somehow flaunting a Federal Government Regulation. That ‘rule’ states “If aircraft registration has expired and a renewal certificate has not been issued, received, and placed in the aircraft, then the aircraft is without authority to operate.” So, if this plane was flown without a valid registration, the Trump organization is now breaking the law.

          • The $5 was probably sent in about 50 comments ago.

  • Eddie Klein

    If it were revealed that a candidate was driving a car around without a license, I’m not sure you’d be as quick to dismiss this as a “non-story.” Certainly you wouldn’t say “but the car is in good shape anyway.” In addition to it being against the law to do what Trump is doing, with potential (albeit unlikely) criminal penalties, it also further demonstrates how little regard Trump has for laws, rules, regulations or anything that he can’t just make up as he goes along. With all due respect, I think you do the public a disservice by trying to minimize this story.

    • As I’ve already indicated, there’s no correlation between a car and an airplane for the reasons previously discussed. I think it would be good if you would familiarize yourself a little more with the situation.

      A plane has to undergo a full inspection (which can cost thousands) once a year. A plane for hire has to undergo an inspection every 100 hours. Cars don’t have to.

      A pilot must have a physical every two years. A pilot for hire — an air transport pilot — needs a physical every six months. Drivers of cars don’t need to.

      A pilot can’t have anything to drink 8 hours before flying. No such rule exists for drivers. A pilot cannot have more than .04 blood alcohol content . That’s one half of the limit on drivers.

      NONE of these regulations and differences has anything to do with registration. Nor does the fact a car is registered provide for any of the safety requirements that are required for the flying of an airplane.

      • PoliticalWaif

        The real story is that all of those “the best people” Trump hires to keep things running smooth, and be aware of pesky details of law like this, apparently ain’t all that, eh?

        • Big John

          They say a fish rots from the head. If the Trump organization makes unforced errors that can then be exposed in the papers (during a crucial time no less), it may reflect weakness at the top. After seeing the way Cruz is running rings around Trump in the organizational area, I’m inclined to think it does.

      • Eddie Klein

        Seems like it’s you who should familiarize yourself a little more with the situation, Bob, rather than spending all your time trying to justify Donald Trump’s repeated flaunting of the rule of law.

  • rosewater49

    Bob, I can’t believe this is coming from a public radio outlet and especially in MN.

    • I have no idea what that means.

      • rosewater49

        Because public radio is known as being very liberal and so is MN. Maybe you are too but found the NYT story to be dumb.

        • Interesting. In a Minnesota way.

          • rosewater49

            Next time I’m up there we can go out and have a nice hot dish and some bars.

        • Henk_sg

          Public radio and TeeVee are not Liberal. They might present some facts once and a while and we know they have a Liberal bias, but they stopped being Liberal a long time ago.

          • Super valuable insight. Thanks for sharing it and staying focused on topic..

  • Craig

    I appreciated you analysis of this article Bob. The timing of the story was apparent to me as a lay reader, but my understanding is improved by your explanation of the degree to which it was also amplified.

    Coverage of the press can be hard to come by. In this blog I have read your critique of an NPR story on Native American child services in the Dakotas, I have seen you double check the math in a newspaper piece asserting certain population growth trends in the area, and on and on.

    Thank you for this work, and your willingness to call out misleading reporting regardless of its source or topic.

  • Rob

    Bob,
    I’m the Chief Pilot on a privately owned G550. As such, I’m responsible for the myriad picayune details that the FAA foists on private planes. I have to say, I admire your fortitude in trying to explain this non-issue to people that are looking for any reason to be outraged.
    Best Regards, and keep the sunny side up.

    • If you’re really appreciative, you’d give me a ride. :*)

    • Dyb

      Rob, what would happen to the person responsible for this G550 didn’t renew the registration and the number got reassigned? Which FAA rules and regulations are okay to ignore and which are not?

  • Dyb

    I disagree with your analysis. We are talking about a man who is the leading Republican contender for President of the United States, and runs a billion dollar corporation. Yet he continues to surround himself with people who either ignore the rules or aren’t competent to follow them. We have seen this happen in the Republican Primaries a few different times. You talk about stopping at any big or small airport and “you’ll find people who don’t know they have to renew their plane’s registration”. While that may be true, the Trump corporation already had to renew their registration once, since it would have initially expired between 2010 and 2013. What is even more interesting to me is why the FAA continued to hold his registration number beyond the 30 days which is their policy. Is this special handling of the Trump organization or do they do this for everyone else?

    • The Trump corporation has multiple planes and all but this one has a current registration, which, as I noted earlier, betrays the assertion that he’s somehow flaunting the law.

      As for special consideration, you can find that answer easily. Just go to the FAA registration website and search for expired registrations, then do a search for available N numbers.

      Let me know what you find out.