Tail / Registration Numbers
Frequent flyers who track their flights using tools such as FlightMemory.com often ask how to obtain the tail number (aircraft registration number) (also called Registration or Reg number) for a flight they have been on. A number of useful online tools to accomplish this have been identified in various FlyerTalk threads. While this article focuses on obtaining AA and American Eagle tail numbers, many of the tools and concepts are applicable to other airlines as well.
Tail / Registration Numbers vs. Fleet Numbers
Aircraft registry numbers in the United States are comprised of the letter N (reported in aerial radio talk as "November," the ICAO / NATO alpha code for "N,") followed by one to five digits and letters, with a minimum of one number and a maximum of two trailing letters. Some examples of valid tail numbers are:
- N123 (November one two three)
- N1234A (November one two three four Alpha)
AA fleet numbers (ship numbers) are comprised of three alphanumeric characters. Often, but not always, the fleet number corresponds to the second, third, and fourth characters of the tail number. In other cases, the fleet number has little or no correlation to the tail number. Some actual examples of AA fleet numbers and the corresponding tail numbers are:
- 234 = N234AA
- 345 = N345AN
- 402 = N402A
- 507 = N3507A
- 200 = N76200
- 3AA = N901AN
- 4XX = N965TW
- 5BR = N645AA
- 7AA = N770AA
Locating Tail / Registration Numbers on Aircraft
On AA aircraft, the tail / registration number is always printed on the fuselage near the tail, while the fleet number is printed on the nose-gear door. Some useful tips by aircraft type, based on a post by FT member AA2070 are as follows (x = any character; # = any number; @ = any letter):
MD80. Fleet numbers are 2##, 4##, 5##, or 4@@ (first letter T, U, W, X, or Y) for former TWA planes. Tail numbers are often NxxxAA (where xxx is the fleet number) or N9xxTW for former TWA planes, but strings with only one letter or all numbers are also used. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door as well as on the fuselage just aft of the 1L/1R door (you can see it from the jetbridge through the small vertical windows while boarding). The fleet number is also sometimes printed on a black "Outstanding Employee" placard on the righthand bulkhead as you enter the 1L door. You can also see the tail number above the FO's instrument panel while boarding.
738. Fleet numbers are 3@@, starting with 3AA (letters to avoid confusion with 767s). Tail / registration numbers are usually N9xxAN or N9xxNN, starting with N901AN. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door as well as aft of the rear cargo doors. The tail number is also posted above the 1L door.
752. Fleet numbers are 6## or 5@@, starting with 610 or 5BP (letters to avoid confusion with MD80s). Tail numbers are often N6xxAA or N6xxAN (with xx correlating to fleet number), starting with N610AA but later backtracking to include N601AN, with N1xxAA on some newer planes, although other letters are sometimes used. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door, and almost always posted by the 1L door near the jumpseats on a blue AA placard.
762 and 763. Fleet numbers are 3##, starting with 301 (762) and 351 (763). Tail numbers are usually N3xxAA or N3xxAN (with xx correlating to the fleet number), staring with N301AA (762) and N651AA (763), although other letters are sometimes used. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door and the underwing fueling ports. The fleet number is also printed on a black "Outstanding Employee" placard on the lefthand bulkhead as you enter the 1L door. The tail number and fleet number are also posted in the midship (row 17) galley on the forward right wall in the galley, near the coffee makers.
772. Fleet numbers are 7@@, starting with 7AA. Tail numbers are usually N7xxAN, starting with N770AN, although other letters are sometimes used. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door and the underwing fueling ports, and aft of the rear cargo doors. The fleet number is also printed on a black "Outstanding Employee" placard on the lefthand bulkhead as you enter the 2L door.
773. Fleet numbers will be 7@@ starting with 7LA. Tail numbers will be N7xxAN, starting with N717AN.
ATR. Tail numbers are generally N4xxAT or N5xxAT, although other letters are sometimes used.
ERJ. Tail numbers are generally N7xxAE for ERJ-135s, N8xxAE for ERJ-140s, and N6xxAE for ERJ-145s, although other letters are sometimes used. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door. The tail number is also printed on a black "Outstanding Employee" placard on the outside of the galley wall, ahead and to the right as you enter the 1L door. The tail number is posted on a certificate on the inside of the cockpit door.
CRJ. Tail numbers are generally N5xxAE, although other letters are sometimes used. The fleet number is painted on the nose gear bay door. The tail number is also printed on a black "Outstanding Employee" placard on the outside of the galley wall, ahead and to the right as you enter the 1L door. The tail number is posted on a certificate on the inside of the cockpit door.
Airbus A300 (1988-2009). Fleet numbers were 0## (050-074). Tail numbers were varied, often N#####.
Fokker F100 (1991-2004). Fleet numbers were 2@@ (2AA-2DI?). Tail numbers were usually N14##@.
McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (1991-2002). Fleet numbers were 1@@. Tail numbers were usually N17##@. Currently operated by FedEx.
Douglas DC-4 (C-54 Skymaster) (1946-1956). Fleet numbers were 4## (401-448). Tail numbers were N904xx (with xx correlating to fleet number). Aircraft names were mostly based on U.S. cities, such as Flagship Dallas (N90401), and U.S. states, such as Flagship Arizona (N90442).
Douglas DC-6 (1946-1961). Fleet numbers were 7## (701-785). Tail numbers were N907xx (with xx correlating to fleet number). Aircraft names were mostly based on U.S. states, later state nicknames, and finally cities, such as Flagship Indiana / Flagship Lone Star State / Flagship Elmira (N90721).
Douglas DC-7 (1954-1965). Fleet numbers were 3## (301-365). Tail numbers were N3xxAA (with xx correlating to fleet number). Aircraft names were mostly based on U.S. states, such as Flagship Texas (N301AA). First delivered 1954.
Douglas DC-10 (1971-2000). Fleet numbers were 1##, with a few 7##. Tail numbers were usually N1xxAA (with xx correlating to fleet number). First delivered 1972.
Boeing 727 (1964-2002). Fleet numbers were 7##, 8##, and 9##. Tail numbers were often N7xxAA, N8xxAA, or N19xx, respectively (with xx correlating to fleet number).
Saab 340B (1991-2007). Fleet numbers were S@@. Tail numbers were often N2xxAE or N3xxAE, but other variations were also used.
• You can also ask an Admirals Club agent, gate agent, or flight attendant for the tail number of the aircraft (although they will generally provide the ship number instead). Some Admirals Club agents do not have the proper software access or training to access the ship number, which can be found on the upper left of the FIL for the flight in the DECS partition of SABRE. All of the above agents also frequently refuse to provide this information, presumably due to ill-defined security concerns.
• British Airways agents at the customer service desk in the LHR T5 Galleries Lounge have access to ship numbers for British Airways flights and may provide this information upon request.
• On British Airways A320 aircraft, the fleet number (last three letters of tail number) is often printed on the fuselage just above the cockpit, and the tail number (G-xxxx, all letters) is also posted inside the aircraft on the placards just inside the forward left door and above the forward right door.
• On British Airways Boeing 767-300 aircraft, the fleet number (last three letters of the tail number) is painted on the nose gear door.
• You also may encounter the Manufacturer's Serial Number or Construction Number (abbreviated MSN or msn and c/n or cn); this is similar to an automobile's VIN, assigned by the manufacturer to a specific fuselage. While a Registration / Tail number changes if the aircraft is registered n another country - and often when transferred to another airline, the msn remains the same.
• Some manufacturers also assign a Line Number, which indicates the aircraft's position in the assembly line and the order in which the specific aircraft occurs in manufacture - e.g. line number 393 indicates this is the 393rd aircraft of this model.
• E.g. a database might reflect "777-223ER N761AJ / 7BW cn 31478/393" - which would reflect American's Boeing 777-323ER ("777-200 manufactured for AA" as -23 is AA's Boeing's customer number for AA) currently registered as N761AJ, AA's fleet number 7BW, manufacturer's number 31478, the 393rd 777 built.
Looking Up Tail Numbers for Historical Flights
Here is one approach to identifying tail numbers for a historical flight:
- Query the BTS Database Detailed Statistics by Departures or Arrivals for your airport, airline (AA or MQ), and date(s) - select "All Statistics". Note that this will only work for domestic flights back to 1995. For recent international flights, you can try querying the ACARS databases listed in the next section. There is also a dedicated site with historical flight information to and from LHR and LGW.
- Identify your flight number and the corresponding tail number. Here's the catch - AA actually reports fleet numbers to the BTS, in the format N###AA, where ### = fleet number. So, you may see what are invalid registration numbers. Some older American Eagle flights are also reported in the format N###MQ, where the two trailing letters are actually not MQ.
- Query rzjets.net by fleet number (and airline if necessary) to identify the true tail number for your aircraft. For American Eagle flights, you can query rzjets.net by registry, omitting the last two characters. Also note that Embraer 140 (ERD) and Embraer 145 (ER4) aircraft are both registered under Embraer ERJ-145; Embraer 140 (ERD) aircraft have registry numbers N8##AE while Embaer 145 (ER4) aircraft have registry numbers N6##%% and N9##%% (where %% is often AE, but not always). N800AE was the first E140 aircraft delivered to American Eagle, the launch customer.
Example 1 - AA1 JFK-LAX 1/1/08
• A query of BTS Detailed Statistics - Departures for All Statistics, New York - Kennedy, American Airlines, Jan, 1, 2008 returns AA0001 as N321AA.
• In this case, the tail number is accurate, and a query of rzjets.net for registry N321AA returns the same tail number, a Boeing 767-223(ER). Interestingly, this tail number was previously assigned to a Douglas DC-7, the Flagship Rhode Island.
Example 2 - AA375 JFK-DFW 1/1/08
• The same BTS query above returns AA0375 as N4YNAA. Obviously, this is an invalid tail number and the fleet number is 4YN
• In this case, the tail number is invalid, so a query of rzjets.net for fleet number 4YN returns N979TW, which was formerly operated by TWA Trans World Airlines prior to the merger with AA in 2001.
Example 3 - AA4465 LGA-CLE 1/1/04
• This is an American Eagle flight, so a BTS query for All Statistics, New York - LaGuardia, American Eagle, Jan, 1, 2004 returns MQ4465 as N718MQ.
• In this case, the tail number is inaccurate, so a query of rzjets.net for registry number N718 and operator American Eagle Airlines (EGF-MQ) returns the real tail number, N718AE, an Embraer ERJ-135LR. This aircraft previously had a registration number of PT-SJR, which was used temporarily during delivery from Embraer, with PT designating a Brazilian aircraft.
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) - An excellent site for identifying tail/fleet numbers for historical flights back to 1995 (domestic only) - search Detailed Statistics by Departures or Arrivals, specifying airport, airline, and date(s).
- ACARS Database Search - Another resource for identifying tail numbers for any flight based on flight number (required format: AA0012) - does not have comprehensive data and only covers the most recent few weeks, but includes international flights.
- SPOTTERS - An easy-to-use site with 3-4 months of consolidated ACARS and selcal information, including some international flights - some flights are not listed in both databases, so both should be searched.
- Heathrow & Gatwick Airport Movements - A dedicated site for flights to/from LHR and LGW, with historical data back to at least 1993 and 1999, respectively.
- rzjets.net - An excellent site for searching by tail number, fleet number, equipment type, or operator
- FAA N-Number Inquiry - Full registration information for US aircraft.
- ACARS Fleetlists - browse fleetlists by aircraft type or carrier
- Bill Harms' AA Fleetlist - no longer updated, but organized by aircraft
- Aeromoe's AA Fleetlist - also no longer updated
- FlightStats Historical Flight Report - Does not provide tail numbers, but does provide other useful historical flight data for approximately 4+ years (equipment, departure times, arrival times, delays).
- DepartedFlights.com - Assorted historical schedules and timetables
Related FlyerTalk Threads
- How to find tail number on AA planes and flights (consolidated)
- Historical AA Timetables? (11/26/07)
- FlightMemory.com Thread (relevant portion begins at post #31, 4/20/07)
- Access to the DECS partition of SABRE (8/08/02)