Every once in a while I like to take a break from the world of miles and points and discuss something dealing with aviation in general. A few weeks ago I wrote about winglets and today I would like to take a few minutes to discuss airplane “N Numbers.”

It all begins back in 1919 during the Paris Peace Conference directly following World War 1. The Conference established an organization called the Convention for Regulation of Air Navigation. This organization is responsible for creating the registration guidelines for aircraft still in use today. The United States was given the letter “N” to denote aircraft registered in the US. The UK was assigned “G,” France was assigned “F,” Italy “I,” and Japan “J.” German was assigned or would later be assigned “D.” These are the first letters that appear on aircraft and generally on large commercial aircraft, their country flag also appears very near the registration number.

In the United States, each airplane you fly on has an “N” number. That number is unique to the aircraft and is used for identification of aircraft while moving on the ground and in the air. Air Traffic Controllers generally use flight numbers when speaking to commercial jets. For example, AA1234, is American Airlines Flight 1234. Controllers will simply refer to that aircraft as American 1234 when giving the direction. Smaller aircraft however are referred to by their registration. General Aviation pilots will call the tower by naming the type of aircraft followed by the letters or numbers following their “N” number.

N numbers also can be searched on certain websites to find details such as who owns the aircraft, where the aircraft is registered, and you can occasionally view flight paths / flight history. Private Jet N Numbers can be interesting to research as they can provide potential insights as to where the owners are traveling to and from frequently. Many companies request their registration be blocked in order to keep travel patterns confidential.

I’ll admit “N” numbers are not the most interesting part of air travel, but now that you know what they are, you might start to notice them and even better notice if you’re on the same plane that you have traveled on before.

Safe Travels!