If the purchase of a private jet is the ultimate Haute status symbol, then the Hautest decision may just be deciding on the aircraft’s vanity tail number.
Like a license plate on an automobile, an aircraft registration number, commonly known as a “tail number” is a unique series of letters and numbers which are required to be clearly marked on the aircraft. (Originally they were drawn only on the tail, hence the name.)
Each country is assigned its own specific country code typically starting with a letter. For instance, the tail number for all aircraft registered in the U.S. begin with the letter “N,” followed by a series of up to five alpha-numeric characters. For the United Kingdom, the tail number starts with a G, and so on. Many of the world’s elite, however, do not register their aircraft in the United States or the United Kingdom for the same reason that they use offshore corporations and offshore bank accounts – namely anonymity, the wish to remain unknown to the general public. For that reason, some of the most popular offshore jurisdictions to register your aircraft are also jurisdictions with a long history of providing the utmost in client privacy and confidentiality.
Here are the tail number country codes for some of the most popular jurisdictions: Aruba (P4), Bermuda (VP or VQ), Cayman Islands (VP), Isle of Man (M) and San Marino (T7). Most of these jurisdictions allow you to pick the sequence of numbers or letters that follow the county code. This has lead to private jet owners now routinely demanding to have a “vanity” tail number along with the private jet of their choosing. Here are just a few from companies and public figures you may recognize:
N999BE (Bernie Ecclestone’s Dassault Falcon 7X. Bernie Ecclestone controls Formula One Racing and is #353 Forbes’ Billionaires list), N1KE (Nike Corporation’s Gulfstream V), N32MJ (Magic Johnson’s Gulfstream III with his player number) and N236MJ (Michael Jordan’s Gulfstream IV, see featured image, with his player number and six for his NBA championships). Since these aircraft start with an N, we know they are registered in the United States. The United States makes its aircraft registry information mostly public, therefore by tail number you can look up the owner and model of aircraft.
G-GALX (Richard Branson’s Dassault Falcon 900. Richard Branson is the serial entrepreneur who owns Virgin Galactic, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Atlantic) and G-SUGA (Lord Alan Sugar’s Embraer Legacy 650). Since these aircraft start with a G, we know they are registered in the United Kingdom.
M-ANSL (Nigel Mansell’s Cessna 560 Citation Encore. Nigel Mansell is a former Formula One race car driver) and M-IKEL (Michael Schumacher’s Dassault Falcon 2000LX. Michael Schumacher the world’s greatest champion of Formula One racing and #20 on Forbes’ list of The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes). Since these aircraft start with an M, we know they are registered in the Isle of Man. The registry at the Isle of Man is confidential.
P4-MES (Roman Abramovich’s “Performance” Boeing 767. Roman Abramovich is a Russian oligarch, owner of the world’s largest private yacht – the 533-foot Eclipse, and #107 on Forbes’ billionaires list). Since this aircraft has a P4, we know it is registered in Aruba. The registry at Aruba is confidential.
Both Isle of Man and Aruba are jurisdictions which provide complete anonymity to the owner of the registered aircraft. So why do we know theses aircraft are owned by Michael Schumacher or Roman Abramovich? Keeping ownership secret involves not just having a secret registry; it also means not living a public life. In this day and age of reality television, the ultimate luxury may be keeping your luxurious life private.
Daniel Novela is a corporate lawyer with Novela Law, who assists clients worldwide in the purchase and registry of their aircraft, yachts, real estate and businesses.
Photocredits: M-Kiel -Frankfurt Aviation Forum, G-GALX Private Dassault Falcon 900EX – PlanespottersNet, N999BE – -Dassault Falcon 7X – www.salzburg-aviationspotter.com, g-suga – airliners.net