Importing an Aircraft is Different than Obtaining a US FAA Certificate of Airworthiness
Importing an aircraft through United States customs and obtaining a United States FAA certificate of airworthiness are different. Different governmental agencies and different paperwork is involved. Both actions are necessary if you are planning to purchase a foreign-registered aircraft in the United States.
There is confusion in the aviation industry about the different legal requirements. Many aviation advisors only consider FAA requirements when importing an aircraft and do not consider requirements of Department of Homeland Security (parent of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP)).
The CBP Imports the Aircraft
The aircraft should be imported into the United States at the first airport of arrival if the seller intends to offer its foreign-registered aircraft for sale in the United States. This issue involves the CBP. If the Seller tells the CBP that the seller is bringing the aircraft into the United States for maintenance and not for sale, the aircraft has probably not been properly imported into the United States. A seller’s statement that the aircraft is entering the United States for maintenance only, while not mentioning the intent to sell the aircraft could be viewed by the CBP as a fraudulent statement made by the seller. The seller knows its intention and is purposely concealing this from CBP. If CBP learns of a fraudulent declaration the CBP may impose fines and penalties. A buyer should ask the seller for a copy of the paperwork confirming the seller has properly imported the aircraft into the United States if the aircraft will be sold to the buyer while the aircraft is in the United States.
A buyer has risk if it accepts responsibility for importing the aircraft into the United States after the closing. The aircraft is in violation of import laws during and after the purchase period, but after closing responsibility for this violation transfers to the buyer.
The FAA Issues the Certificate of Airworthiness
The United States FAA certificate of airworthiness is obtained by the buyer from the FAA. The certificate of airworthiness is only issued by the FAA after the buyer has registered the aircraft with the United States FAA.
Laws other than the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) impact the purchase of your aircraft. Planning and communication can help avoid unpleasant surprises. Working with attorneys and advisors experienced in business aviation will add value to help your purchase of a foreign registered aircraft complies with law and your goals.
Michelle M. Wade is a Partner with the aviation law firm of Jetstream Aviation Law, P.A. and counsel clients on the acquisition, financing and operation of corporate jets operated under Part 91 and Part 135 of the US Federal Aviation Regulations. Jetstream Aviation Law can be found at www.JetstreamLaw.com. Michelle Wade (firstname.lastname@example.org)