UK may revise rules about foreign aircraft registration

 - October 4, 2006, 5:01 AM

The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) is considering whether to prevent foreign-registered aircraft that are not operated commercially from being based permanently in Britain. It is about to launch a consultation process on proposals to revise legislation on foreign-registered aircraft.

According to the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA), the UK move will be part of a wider harmonization of aircraft registration rules within the 25-state European Union (EU). The association’s initial response to the proposal was that if authorities addressed the factors that prompted operators to register offshore–in its view, excessively burdensome regulation and bureaucracy–many operators would return their aircraft to EU national registers.

According to a DfT spokesman, the consultation process will begin imminently, quite probably before the end of this month. Generally some 10 to 12 weeks are allowed for industry input. Full details of the process will be posted under the consultations section of the department’s Web site,

The UK government’s intention to consider this regulatory change became apparent in a recent DfT statement of clarification about the need for permits to be issued if pilot training is performed in foreign-registered aircraft. In passing, the department mentioned its plans for a consultation on wider changes.

Broader European Changes

French civil aviation authorities have been considering similar changes over the past two years but do not yet appear to have made a firm decision. They too have been concerned about the dwindling numbers of non-commercial aircraft on the French register. But like the BBGA, the French chapter of the European Business Aviation Association has essentially argued that excessively complex and costly regulations are driving operators away from their national registers.

According to statistics from London-based aviation consulting group Airclaims, the UK, with 181 jets, had Europe’s second largest business turbofan fleet as of the end of last year. Germany is first with 240, and France is in fifth place with 113. In fact, the UK-registered bizjet fleet has grown by almost 20 percent over the past decade, while France’s has declined by 35 percent.

A quick glance at popular offshore registers such as those of the Cayman Islands and Bermuda reveals the scale of foreign registration. At least 23 of the 75 jets registered in the Cayman Islands are owned by UK firms and individuals, not including several more that appear to be British-owned and -based. The French jet fleet in exile is more dispersed across international registers. The U.S. register reveals numerous European-owned aircraft taking a flag of convenience.