How Private Planes are Registered and Identified
Whether it’s commercial or private, every plane is assigned a registration number, the same way license plates are given to cars. They’re referred to as tail numbers, and are typically displayed on the tail of the aircraft (hence the name), or in the case of many private jets, on the engine’s cowling.
Depending on which country an airplane is registered in will dictate the first letter of the tail number, followed by a unique set of up to 5 alphanumeric symbols (ABC/123).
For example, the United States owns the most common registrations, “N” (NC, NL, NR, NS, NX); planes based in the UK begin with the letter “G”; and aircraft in Germany start their tail numbers with “D”.
Tail numbers on commercial airlines are pretty simple.
However, when it comes to private jet registration and their eccentric owners, they can get a little more interesting, and many celebrities and executives show off their private plane by registering a ‘vanity tail number’:
Nike’s corporate jet carries the registration “N1KE”; Michael “Air” Jordan knows how to fly, and his tail number “N236MJ” represents his jersey number (23), championship rings (6), and initials (MJ); “G-GALX” belongs to the Dassault Falcon 900 owned by Richard Branson, the entrepreneurial owner of Virgin Galactic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Atlantic.
What are Tail Numbers used for?
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