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A thief stole two airplanes with a signature and a couple of stamps

According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court, the paperwork Hughes had sent to the FAA was phony, something that only came to light when a worker at the Washington State Department of Transportation placed a routine call to the Piper’s previous owner to confirm their cancellation of the plane’s registration. The confused owner, a US Navy doctor in Gig Harbor, WA, said he hadn’t sold his plane, nor did he intend to. ( More...

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geroldn 8
Buyer beware, get title insurance!
Mike Lynn 6
Title Insurance should be mandatory on boats and planes with titles being listed and cross referenced by aircraft serial number and current FAA registration. A seller would have to prevaldate any sale by offering the actual title for public inspection as part of any advertising he/she does to sell the plane.This might cut down on these kind of shenanigans. As always the buyer beware. Go see what your buying or hire an agent/broker to represent you if it's a long distance from your home.
erisajd 6
Why do I need title insurance? It doesn’t cover theft. Aircraft insurance covers theft. Maybe if the FAA is going to maintain such a weak system for transfer of aircraft they could add something as simple as a notarized signature to the bill of sale.
jhakunti 2
Notory public and even record clerks are capable of errors and susceptibility to fraud. Seen it done in real estate. A buyer has had his $350k+ tied up for a year because of an illegal sale due to fraud around copy and pasting the signature page of a document. The notary is no longer in the business and never turned in her logs. It's a mess but in reality it falls on interested parties more than anyone else to protect their property.
paul trubits 2
If you own a home, title insurance is not required. If you have a mortgage from a lender, they require insurance. You have to buy a separate policy. Can you get a mortgage on an airplane?
A mortgage is simply a loan -- very common. And having a loan, or 'mortgage,' on an aircraft doesn't meant one cannot get title insurance on it.
Pat Barry 3
Lenders don't require title insurance on an aircraft purchase - while they take the aircraft as collateral, the type of financing is more like a personal loan, similar to boat, recreational vehicle financing. The lender really is lending against the good credit record of the borrower.
Title insurance on an aircraft purchase protects the title - if the title is fraudulent then the title company pays out the loss.
My first aircraft purchase was financed by B of A, and four months later I had a phone call explaining that the bank had missed an unreleased bank lien from four owners ahead of me. I asked what the repercussions were if B of A could not get a lien release, and the branch manager told me that B of A would own the plane. Gulp! (It was cleared and all ended well, but it's an example).
Brent Bahler 1
Yes. It would be a “chattel mortgage” which is the type that a lender records to secure a lien on movable property. Title insurance would not be helpful inasmuch as it covers omissions and errors in the purchase process or subsequent disputes over, for instance, boundaries in real estate.
Some people will steal your underware if you are not watching even when you are wearing them
Mike Mohle 4
Stock photos of airplanes but none of the perp??????
Dale Ballok 2
There’s two of them.
One’s a “he” and ones a “she”!
Can’t figure out which way to go!
Any way to make a quick buck.
carste10 2
Wanna bet he's on the street again?
Ken Lane 2
No transaction for any titled or deeded item nor any other item more than a grand should take place outside a notary and a witness or two, preferably at a bank. For that matter, if you can afford to spend a hundred grand on an airplane, it's a worthwhile expense to spend another $500 to a grand on a lawyer to back up the transaction as legitimate.

And, that's after verifying previous ownership, clear title, etc.

To me, this just plain common sense.

I won't even get into the anxious seller who threatens to take the deal elsewhere or when they seem so quick to offer such a sweet deal as was described in the article.
Incredible... And the FAA doesn't verify the documents? Why the hell not? This is insane. It would seem to be one of the process points, to at least call the previous owners, or call the state the plane was registered in and verify the sale. Good grief.
Jasper Buck 7
Buying a aircraft without going through the homework of researching title, conducting inspections and filing the proper instruments at closing is unwise. Usually buying an aircraft can be a big dollar purchase. Homework and due diligence are required by the buyer. It is not up to the FAA to do a buyers due diligence search. Unfortunately many airplane buyers buy aircraft without proper due diligence. Aviation records should be checked for liens or encumbrances that could make good and marketable title difficult to get.

It should be noted that aircraft due diligence can be more complicated than examining real estate title. The ownership lineage of an aircraft may extend through many locations (including states or foreign countries) before the final sale. Consequently, the aircraft may pick up liens or encumbrances along the way.

In most cases, a buyer should locate an experienced title company and/or attorney to assist with title search, escrow, and closing services. Their are dozens of those around including a number of them in Oklahoma City within view of the FAA's Aircraft and Airman Registry offices. Prior to closing, the buyer should do search for local mechanics’ liens or financing statements filed in local courts. In addition, the buyer should perform a comprehensive aircraft title search at the FAA Registry, and at the International Registry of Mobile Assets if the aircraft is subject to the Cape Town Convention. Again there are private firms that do those kinds of searches.

Often a comprehensive search may reveal unreleased chattel mortgages, leases, or errors in proof of ownership. If any unreleased interests remain at the time of closing, the buyer risks ownership being subject to a third-party interest. With obstacles such as these, the buyer also risks having to pay off liens, obtain releases, or even losing the aircraft after costly litigation. However, an experienced title company or attorney can typically clear these issues with little controversy prior to closing. Professional due diligence can save the buyer from unnecessary exposure and cost on the tail end of the transaction.

Declaratory action lawsuits, commonly known as actions to quiet title, may be necessary in the case of a dissolved bank or corporation that did not release a prior ownership interest before dissolving. However, most lawsuits involving typical encumbrances can be avoided with proper upfront research. Clearing competing aircraft ownership interests vary depending on the laws of the state involved. Many state laws apply priority of interests differently depending how and when the interests are recorded or whether the state requires redecoration at all. In some instances, Federal law may preempt state laws.

Bottom-line, due diligence by the buyer is necessary prior to buying an aircraft. Forgoing the same can result in costly litigation or exposure. The buyer should hire an expert and only close on an aircraft purchase after all encumbrances are found and cleared.

The FAA does not do the foregoing due diligence examinations just like a Clerk of a County Court does not due diligence searches for real property. That's why municipal lien searches, unrecorded lien searches and permit searches have become so popular recently. The government agency recording and transferring title to a new owner is not going to check to see if there is, for example, open building permits or previous liens on the property because of code violations.

The FAA clearly states, in its written guidance, that "You may review the aircraft records on your own, or have this done by an attorney or aircraft title search company. Several firms that perform aircraft title searches and related services can be found on the internet. The AC does not perform title searches."

More can be found here;

Best Regards


J Buck

ATP DC-9 B757 B767
Flight Instructor
Ground Instructor
Aircraft Dispatcher
A&P Mechanic
FAA Aviation Safety Inspector (Ret.)
FAA certified accident investigator (Ret.)
ICAO Panel Member
erisajd 2
How would researching title solve this problem? The FAA title registry shows the ‘new’ owner as the legal owner. So you spend $$$ on a title search and the only red flag is the short time new owner selling the airplane.

The real issue is logs. And the scammer is so ignorant they don’t have the logs which means there is no proof the airplane is airworthy which is the tip off to the scam. Without logs a $110k airplane is worth $60-70k. Maybe.
Ric Wernicke 2
Jasper, what you say is true and good advice, but what really needs to happen is greater protection of the buyer and seller through legislation. If the FAA is the custodian of the records, they should keep full and complete records. This common practice of using a bank or sole purpose corporation to hide the actual owner should be banned. Who gets paid if a buyer cannot determine the actual owner. If the plane is involved in an accident or unlawful activity any one should be able to use a serial or tail number to identify the owner. Buyers and sellers should have a system like securities dealers use to transfer stocks and bonds, where the owner of the title must sign in the presence of a medallion holder who knows that owner. This is nonsense that crooks can fabricate counterfeit documents and take title of aircraft, ships, cars, and even houses.

Aircraft owners should not be allowed to demand they not be tracked. The skies are public, and one must have permission to use them, and the public should have the right to know who is where.
Jasper Buck 4
"Aircraft owners should not be allowed to demand they not be tracked. The skies are public, and one must have permission to use them, and the public should have the right to know who is where."

Sorry to disappoint you but that's not the way it works. You have no access, for example, to the DMVs license plate information, nor do you have full (or any) access the Coast Guard's documented vessel information. You do have some access to the FAA's aircraft registry information. Far more information that for cars and boats. But there are limits as to what the government makes available for free. The registration of aircraft is governed by both a law and a regulation which I will cite below.

Title 49 United States Code
49 USC Sec. 44103 : Registration of aircraft

§44103. Registration of aircraft
(a) General.-(1) On application of the owner of an aircraft that meets the requirements of section 44102 of this title, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation
(c) Certificates as Evidence.-A certificate of registration issued under this section is-
(1) conclusive evidence of the nationality of an aircraft for international purposes, but not conclusive evidence in a proceeding under the laws of the United States; and
(2) not evidence of ownership of an aircraft in a proceeding in which ownership is or may be in issue.

Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations: Aeronautics and Space

47.5 Applicants.
(a) A person who wishes to register an aircraft in the United States must submit an Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1 under this part.
(b) An aircraft may be registered only by and in the legal name of its owner.
(c) 49 U.S.C. 44103(c), provides that registration is not evidence of ownership of aircraft in any proceeding in which ownership by a particular person is in issue. The FAA does not issue any certificate of ownership or endorse any information with respect to ownership on a Certificate of Aircraft Registration, AC Form 8050-3. The FAA issues a Certificate of Aircraft Registration, AC Form 8050-3 to the person who appears to be the owner on the basis of the evidence of ownership submitted pursuant to §47.11 with the Aircraft Registration Application, or recorded at the Registry.
(d) In this part, “owner” includes a buyer in possession, a bailee, or a lessee of an aircraft under a contract of conditional sale, and the assignee of that person.

It gets complicated. For example recently (a few months ago) there was an A320-233 sitting on the ramp at my local airport. The FAA registration number was N511VL. I looked up the registration number on the FAA's website and discovered that the owner is "WILMINGTON TRUST CO TRUSTEE" with an address, as you might guess, in Wilmington DE. Based on my experience the aircraft is almost certainly owned by a group of investors, hedge funds, and/or private equity partners who leased the aircraft to the Trustee who in turn leased the aircraft to Volaris Airlines an airline certified in Mexico. Because it still has a U.S. registration certificate it would have to maintained under an FAA approved airworthiness program in accordance with FAR Part 145.

That scenario presents some issues. If you wanted to buy the airplane where do you start? The FAA knows who the registered owner is but not the operator. The FAA knows what the security interest is in the aircraft but not what arrangement(s) the owner(s) may have made with others. Did the operator sublease the airplane to someone else? Has the airplane been maintained in accordance with U.S. airworthiness standards? Are there liens (foreign and/or domestic) on the aircraft?

The FAA's aircraft records consists of three distinct elements; information about the registered owner of the aircraft, information about recorded aircraft security interests, and information concerning the airworthiness of the aircraft. Whether the information is correct or not is the question? All of it can be purchased from the FAA either in hard copy or on a CD. (see But the records are only as good as the information being fed into the system. If someone is falsifying documents such as the Piper buyer (Hughes) the FAA doesn't have the time or resources to run a full title check. That's where the aircraft title services come into play. When I bought my Cessna 182 I paid a lawyer to run a title search clear back to the day the airplane was certified in 1998. He was able to come up with the chain of ownership, Conveyance Recordation Notices, liens, financing, etc. That's what these firms do. Much like doing a title search on a house.

Note the language in both the law (44103(c) and the regulation 47.5(c). "...not evidence of ownership of an aircraft in a proceeding in which ownership is or may be in issue." That's what Congress intended. The government is not in the business of running title searches for owners of houses, boats, airplanes, cars, etc.

The FAA has a pretty decent explanation of all this in its publication "Plane Sense" available for free from;

Also see the FAA's FSIMS Chapter 441 located at:

Best Regards

J Buck

P.s As an aside some aircraft owners/operators don't want to be identified. Military, celebrities, corporations, etc. Which is why many of them don't show up on FlightAware or other aircraft tracking sites. Congress wrote that into the law also.
paul trubits 1
Another law?
Sven Freitag 1
I think you’re missing Robert’s point, he was not talking about buyers but about the protection of owners who have no idea that anyone with criminal energy and little skill required can apparently assume ownership of their planes – and I fully agree that that should be up to the FAA to properly validate such requests.
Michael Hawke 5
Why would the FAA be responsible to do that? Your state DMV doesn't call you when your car title changes hands, nor does the city clerk call when the title to your land or house changes hands. It is a responsibility of the owner of any property to control it in a way that they would know if it was stolen or moved. It is not the state's or FAA's responsibility to do that.

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David Craig 1
Say it aint so!
mike bednar 1
I'd think if these scammers are so adept at stealing an airplane that they'd be able to excel at an honest job!
Scott Smith 1
There is never an excuse for this kind of crime...being “up against the wall financially” does not give these jerks the right to perpetrate fraud of any kind at the expense of others. Now he becomes another convicted criminal on the State dole. The sad thing is, he’ll probably go right back to this when he gets out. Too many people out there trying to make the quick buck instead of trying to work for it legally.
Mark Kanzler 1
I wish we would punish criminals.
robin cooper 1
having dealt with the FAA concerning plane registrations, this is totally believable, they are very slow and beaurocratic, [and incompetent].
Mike Mohle 4
Government incompetence?!?!!? Never heard of that before.....
Pat Barry 3
I've dealt with Registration in Oklahoma City, and the folks there are pretty good. They know their jobs, and are responsive. But while they are experienced, and will certainly act if they see an irregularity, they do not verify ownership if the chain of title is in order.
We all agree that government is, generally, myopic and incompetent, but I can vouch for the people in registration. The lights are on, their eyes are open, and I reckon they do a pretty good job overall.
Jim DeTour 1
Kind of says it all when "Washington State Department of Transportation placed a routine call to the Piper’s previous owner to confirm their cancellation of the plane’s registration". Wire fraud is a federal offense. Wire fraud on a federal agency kicks the offense into a shark tank of government lawyers looking for high fives for making bigger stories of burning offenders.

I'll place bets on they work the end of the trial and sentencing for right before the weekend parties once the pandemic settles down.
Unfortunately, wire fraud has a minimum threshold before the FBI will bother. A long time ago an agent told me it was $100 k.

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Mark Kanzler 1
The best way to respond to political posts on non-political websites is to ignore them. Generally a behavior goes away when you don't acknowledge it.
AKA "Don't feed the trolls"


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