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FAA Plans To Modernize Its Outdated Civil Aviation Registry Systems, but Key Decisions and Challenges Remain

Requested by the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Project ID: 
What We Looked At
The Civil Aviation Registry (The Registry) processes and maintains ownership information on approximately 300,000 private and commercial aircraft and records on almost 1.5 million airmen. The Registry is critical for ensuring aircraft are legally owned, maintained, and operated, and many users in law enforcement, safety, the aviation industry, and the public rely on the accuracy and timeliness of its data. The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we assess FAA’s overall management of the Registry and public access to certain Registry elements. We received a similar request from the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Our audit objective was to assess FAA’s management of the Civil Aviation Registry. Specifically, we assessed FAA’s (1) progress in modernizing the Registry and (2) policies for providing public access to Registry-related activities.
What We Found
The Registry’s systems are outdated, and FAA has yet to develop a detailed plan for modernization. The Registry’s current systems cannot support online access outside of the Registry’s offices in Oklahoma City, OK. While FAA is in the early stages of developing plans to modernize the Registry’s systems, the Agency has not yet made key decisions regarding the system. Consequently, the cost and timeframes for Registry modernization remain uncertain, even though FAA is mandated to complete Registry upgrades by October 2021. In addition, the regulations that govern aircraft registration do not reflect current technology or business practices, and FAA will likely need to conduct a rulemaking in conjunction with Registry modernization. If FAA does not complete the rulemaking in coordination with the development of the new system, the Agency risks spending resources on a system that lacks key capabilities.
Due to the current system’s limitations, users who need to access aircraft registration information in real time must access the system through the use of Government-owned computer terminals located at the Registry’s Public Documents Room (PDR) in Oklahoma City. For users who cannot or do not want to travel to Oklahoma City, they can obtain aircraft information online, but that information is updated once a day, rather than in real time. Moving towards a more efficient process hinges on modernizing the Registry, but FAA has not yet developed a plan for allowing real-time access to aircraft information.
Our Recommendations
FAA concurred with all four of our recommendations and proposed appropriate actions and completion dates.




Closed on 12.09.2020
No. 1 to FAA

Develop and implement a timeline for making key decisions regarding the Civil Aviation Registry Electronic Services (CARES), such as defining requirements, one system vs. two systems, cloud vs. server architecture, risk-based policies, and what processes FAA could automate.

Closed on 12.09.2020
No. 2 to FAA

Define what desired capabilities are technologically feasible within the Registry’s desired timeframes and include in its requirements, in consultation with FAA’s Office of Information Technology (AIT).

Closed on 12.09.2020
No. 3 to FAA

Develop and implement a procedure to obtain feedback on CARES from internal and external stakeholders to better ensure that CARES meets the needs of the users of the system.

Closed on 12.09.2020
No. 4 to FAA

Develop and implement a plan for maintaining real-time access to aircraft registration data prior to any potential closure of the Public Documents Room (PDR).