Five lesser known methods for comparing the world’s aircraft registries

Thursday 20 December 2018

Anyone involved in the financing, leasing, buying or selling of aircraft is likely to be faced with the requirements of aircraft registration. For some, the registration process for anything other than a light propeller or turbine aircraft to be used within one state is a puzzle tree, posing more questions than answers. John Hill, Aviation Consultant at Equiom Group discusses five important benchmarks for measuring up the world's aircraft registries.

Registration is, of course, not just getting a ‘number plate’, the aircraft call sign. It also requires those directly associated with maintenance and operation of the aircraft to comply with that state of registration’s regulatory standards. Those regulations must meet the global demands for the aircraft’s legal and safe operation, irrespective of what it will be used for.

Large, aviation-focused service providers, including those structuring and managing many transactions annually and across many different states, will have first-hand knowledge of the most appropriate regulatory services, tax solutions and legal certainties. That choice of registry may have been dictated by the state of ownership, selected through word-of-mouth, or decided based on previous experience. This article aims to provide you with some important benchmarks for measuring up the world’s aircraft registries.

1.International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) audits

Every aircraft registry in ICAO member states is audited on a cyclical basis. The audit is conducted against ICAO standards and will additionally seek that any shortcomings from previous years have been addressed. You can view comparative assessments on ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit (ICASO) programme viewer where you will find comparisons of each registry’s legislation, organisation, licensing, operations, airworthiness and any accident investigations. Air navigation services and aerodromes will give a clear sight and comparison of how each rates on a global scale. 

Where a registry is not listed, it will still have been audited as part of its ‘parent’ nation. Under these circumstances, you can call the registry’s director and ask them for the audit findings.

2.Clarity of regulations

If the ICASO rating does not give a clear enough indication of the registry’s soundness to owners, operators and aircrew, the Air Navigation Order (aviation’s regulation document) might be more relevant. Regulations are part of the law of the issuing state. Like most laws, they are written in terms that meet legal needs from which courts can apply statutory instruments. There are legal penalties for non-compliance or breach of any subclause that may well have been missed, or seemed irrelevant, at the first reading.

Many old and established registries’ order books are expansive, difficult to piece together in the minds of those actually operating an aircraft rather than studying law. Their complexity meets legal needs, but rarely adds to the safety of operation that comes only through a clear understanding of what is required, and what must not be breached. While other factors may have attracted aircraft to a specific registry, the opportunity should be taken to check whether the regulations are coherent and add to the safety of operation. No-one benefits from yet another big book on the shelf.

3.Fees and charges

Although rarely more than a single figure percentage in the cost of aircraft purchase, low registration fees and charges for ownership and operation are undoubtedly a major attraction at first sight. However, inspection of a registry’s fees and charges will reveal exactly how these are structured. Calculation of most registration fees are based on Maximum Take-Off Mass (MTOM). Comparison of several registries’ fees for the same aircraft can reveal considerable annual differences in operating costs.

Owners will seek economies across their operation and, on registration fees alone, savings are possible where two registries appear equally attractive in other respects. Comparison should be easy enough if you can access the full fees and charges scheme for each registry. However, some keep their fees close to their chest, and others will require a personal approach for a quotation.

4.Customer feedback

Many registries, focused on business aircraft, now actively promote themselves. Most business aircraft shows attract those registries that clearly seek interaction with owners, operators and aircrews, all potential clients. Consider those registers that do not market or have representatives available at the shows. Are they too big, distant or too entrenched to bother with direct contact and indeed exposure to what, in most other industries, are potential clients?

Time spent on a registry’s stand is rarely wasted. They will be interested in what others say, whether it is good, bad or indifferent. The benefit to the potential client is that first-hand contact is made. Facts and material evidence can be gained, some of which will make very interesting reading.


Finally, the manner in which the customer is welcomed and treated by the registry is of course a first impression. A smart stand, great brochure and, if you are lucky, tasty food is the lure. But the meat of the deal is the level of personnel you meet with. Their knowledge and the clarity of their offering may give confidence, similarly it could reveal uncertainties that may lead you to doubt exactly how good the registration service is likely to be. You can, of course, make an appointment and visit a registry in its home state, but unless you are armed with comparative figures, the conversation is then more likely to be focused on what they offer alone and you may go away having learned very little.

Satisfaction from the oversight provided by a registry is fundamental to flight safety. While international requirements are essential, there are differences between the performance of registries and healthy competition from those with focused business jet offerings.

The choice and scope of comparative materials is wide and best known to those who actually manage aircraft across the globe.  The tangible increases in aircraft capabilities need to be matched by the services from those who don’t just register but provide the regulations that best serve the aircraft and the expectations of its owners, operators and crews. The choice of registries is there. It is equally important to test, check and select wisely from them.  

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