Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About US Airline Tail Numbers (Part 2)

I had a lot of great feedback on last week’s post about the aircraft registrations of the big four airlines in the US. Now, we’re going to look at most of the rest. Below you’ll find a discussion about the regionals and low cost cost carriers flying around the country. The regionals in particular tell an interesting story about how airplanes move around between carriers.

Air Wisconsin

Original Photo By redlegsfan21 from Vandalia, OH, United States (N436AWUploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By redlegsfan21 from Vandalia, OH, United States (N436AWUploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Little Air Wisconsin is something of an anomaly in this industry. It was left for dead by United only to find new life with US Airways. But it’s independent and only flies 50 seat jets these days. Its registration scheme? Pretty simple.

  • CRJ-200
    • N4xxAW or ZW

ZW is the airline’s two letter code.

Alaska Airlines (including Horizon)


Alaska may be a fairly big airline, but it hasn’t had any trouble using a uniform template for its airplanes. Its wholly-owned subsidiary Horizon (airline code QX) uses the same style, so I’ve combined them here.

  • Q400 (Horizon)
    • N4xxQX
  • 737-400
    • N7xxAS
  • 737-700
    • N6xxAS
  • 737-800
    • N5xxAS
  • 737-900
    • N3xxAS
  • 737-900ER
    • N4xxAS
Allegiant


With no airplanes being bought new, I always figured Allegiant wouldn’t bother re-registering airplanes. I was wrong. The airline actually has a pretty good system with most new registrations ending in NV. I assume that stands for Nevada.

  • A319
    • N3xxNV
  • MD-80
    • N4xxNV
    • N8xxGA
  • A320
    • N2xxNV
  • 757-200
    • N9xxNV
CommutAir

Original Photo By Andre Wadman [GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By Andre Wadman [GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons


If you’ve been delayed on a flight on a United Express Dash 8, then you’ve been flying CommutAir. All of its airplanes have come in second-hand but only those that came from outside the country were re-registered by Comair.

  • Dash 8-200
    • N3xxPH (former Horizon aircraft)
  • Dash 8-300
    • N8xxCA (former Tyrolean aircraft)
Frontier


There’s not a ton to say about Frontier. The airline is down to only two fleet types, so it’s pretty simple. The A318 used to be N8xxFR but those have been retired now.

  • A319
    • N9xxFR
  • A320
    • N2xxFR
Hawaiian (including ‘Ohana)

Original Photo by Me, Myself, and I

Original Photo by Me, Myself, and I


Hawaiian is also pretty straightforward. I’ve included the ‘Ohana by Hawaiian aircraft flown by Empire Airlines here. Those end in HC, which according to spokesperson Alison Croyle stands for Hawaiian Commuter.

  • ATR-42 (‘Ohana by Hawaiian)
    • N8xxHC
  • 717-200
    • N4xxHA
  • 767-300
    • N5xxHA
  • A330-200
    • N3xxHA
JetBlue


JetBlue looks pretty simple at first, but there’s an interesting little twist which I’ll talk about below.

  • Embraer 190
    • N1xxJB
    • N2xxJB
    • N3xxJB
  • A320
    • N5xxJB
    • N6xxJB
    • N7xxJB
    • N8xxJB
  • A321
    • N9xxJB

So what’s the twist? Well, if JetBlue leases out an airplane and then it comes back, they change the aircraft registration. According to Sebastian White, spokesperson for JetBlue, that’s why ships 507, 508, 526, 527, 531, and 537 end in either JT or JL. They ended in JB until they were leased out to Blue Wings in Europe. It changed when they came back.

Mesa

Original Photo By DearEdward from New York, NY, USA (United's first E175) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By DearEdward from New York, NY, USA (United’s first E175) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Mesa seems to be all over the map with its registration schemes. These days, it takes airplanes and gives them an NxxxLR registration which I think is for the airline’s founder Larry Risley. I assume the MJ stands for Mesa Jet and the FJ stands for Freedom Jet since Freedom was a former subsidiary that’s now gone. But you’ll notice the Embraer 175s use United’s registration scheme (the ## stands for random numbers). That’s because those airplanes are owned by United but given to Mesa to operate on the airline’s behalf.

  • Embraer 175
    • N##3xx
  • CRJ-700
    • N5xxMJ (xx = 01 to 15)
    • N5xxLR (xx = 16 and higher)
  • CRJ-900
    • N2xxLR (former Alitalia and Pluna aircraft)
    • N3xxMS (former HeavyLift aircraft)
    • N9xxFJ (xx = 01 to 25)
    • N9xxLR (xx = 26 and higher)
Republic (including Chautauqua and Shuttle America)


Republic has a lot of airplanes at three different subsidiaries. You can really trace the history behind some of these airplanes based on their registrations and on industry changes. You can also see that after the airline adopted the former Midwest Airlines YX code, it started changing its registration strategy.

  • Q400
    • N1xxWQ (former Colgan aircraft)
    • N2xxWQ (former Colgan aircraft)
    • N3xxNG (former Colgan aircraft)
    • N5xxLX (former Lynx aircraft)
  • Embraer 170
    • N8xxMD (former MidAtlantic aircraft)
  • Embraer 175
    • N1xxHQ (xx = 01 to 38)
    • N4xxYX
  • Embraer 190
    • N1xxHQ (xx = 63 to 77)

Chautauqua is not long for this world. It’s going to be merged into Shuttle America now that its partner airlines don’t need to keep some airplanes on separate certificates. Though many of the registrations end in SK, this doesn’t appear to be due to SkyWest. The best I can figure, this is because Skyways Aviation leased airplanes to Chautauqua. And I really don’t know where the JQ comes from. There are two outliers here, N974MP and N976RP. Those appear to be Embraer 145MP versions, so they’re just the black sheep of the family (the rest are LRs).

  • ERJ-140/145
    • N2xxJQ
    • NxxxSK
    • N5xxRP

Lastly we have Shuttle America. This airline has had nine lives, but now as a subsidiary of Republic that’s about to absorb Chautauqua, its long term prospects are solid.

  • Embraer 170
    • N6xxRW
    • N8xxRW
    • N8xxMD (former MidAtlantic aircraft)
  • Embraer 175
    • N2xxJQ
Silver

Original Photo By Is3cm (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By Is3cm (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Silver is a newly-all Saab operator and it has two registrations. It picked up all its airplanes from Mesaba, which is now defunct.

  • Saab SF-340
    • N3xxAG (former Mesaba aircraft)
    • N4xxXJ (former Mesaba aircraft)
SkyWest (including ExpressJet)


SkyWest is probably the hardest regional to decipher. It has taken so many airplanes from so many other operators without re-registering that it ends up being quite the motley assortment. Let’s see if I can make some sense of this.

  • Embraer 120
    • N2xxSW
    • N2xxYV (former Mesa aircraft)
    • N5xxSW
  • CRJ-100/200
    • N4xxSW
    • N4xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N5xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N5xxML (former Midway aircraft)
    • N6xxBR(former Atlantic Coast aircraft)
    • N7xxBR (former Atlantic Coast aircraft)
    • N7xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N8xxAS (former Atlantic Southeast aircraft)
    • N8xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N9xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N9xxEV (former Atlantic Southeast aircraft)
    • N9xxSW
  • CRJ-700
    • N2xxAG (former Horizon aircraft)
    • N6xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxQX (former Horizon aircraft)
    • N6xxSK
    • N7xxSK
  • CRJ-900
    • N1xxPQ (former Pinnacle aircraft)
    • N5xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N8xxSK
  • Embraer 175
    • N1xxSY

As if that’s not enough, there’s SkyWest’s under-performing subsidiary ExpressJet. (This is a combo of ExpressJet and the old Atlantic Southeast.) They’ve also picked up their share of airplanes from a variety of different places. The Embraers were all owned by Continental previously, so they follow the current United scheme with the ## being random numbers.

  • Embraer 135
    • N##5xx (xx = 01 to 30)
  • Embraer 145LR
    • N##5xx (xx = 31 and higher)
    • N##9xx
  • Embraer 145XR
    • N##1xx
    • N##2xx
  • CRJ-200
    • N4xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxBR (former Atlantic Coast aircraft)
    • N8xxAS (former Atlantic Southeast aircraft)
    • N9xxEV (former Atlantic Southeast aircraft)
  • CRJ-700
    • N3xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxQX (former Horizon aircraft)
    • N7xxEV (former Atlantic Southeast aircraft)
  • CRJ-900
    • N1xxEV (former Atlantic Southeast aircraft)
    • N1xxPQ (former Pinnacle aircraft)
    • N2xxPQ (former Pinnacle aircraft)
    • N5xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxLR (former Mesa aircraft)
Spirit


Unlike Allegiant, Spirit takes new aircraft, so I figured it would have everything in a neat order. It does. I assume the A319s and A321s share the same ranges because the A319s will be phased out over time.

  • A319
    • N5xxNK (xx = 01 to 34)
  • A320
    • N6xxNK
  • A321
    • N5xxNK (xx = 35 and higher)
Sun Country

Original Photo By DearEdward from New York, NY, USA [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By DearEdward from New York, NY, USA [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


You forgot about Sun Country, didn’t you?

  • 737-700
    • N7xxSY
  • 737-800
    • N8xxSY
Trans States (including Compass and GoJet)

Original Photo By Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt [GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt [GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons


Trans States is one strange airline. I always figured it would get acquired by someone, but so far it has only grown. The namesake airline only operates 50 seaters, and they all end in HK. Why? The founder’s name is Hulas Kanodia. Talk about an ego trip.

    • N8xxHK

Trans States started GoJet once it needed a new operator for larger aircraft. These have more traditional registrations.

  • CRJ-700
    • N1xxGJ
    • N3xxCA (former Comair aircraft)
    • N6xxCA (former Comair aircraft)

When Delta acquired Compass as a subsidiary of Northwest, it wanted to get rid of it. Trans States stepped in and offered to buy the airline. I’m not sure how Compass ended up with CZ, but it was probably as close as the airline could get and still find a good range of numbers that it needed.

  • Embraer 170
    • N7xxCZ
  • Embraer 175
    • N5xxCZ
Virgin America

Original Photo By Alan Wilson from Weston, Spalding, Lincs, UK (Airbus A320-214 'N623VA' Virgin America) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Original Photo By Alan Wilson from Weston, Spalding, Lincs, UK (Airbus A320-214 ‘N623VA’ Virgin America) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


I always thought Virgin America would be easy with only A319s and A320s, but according to spokesperson Abby Lunardini, there’s more to it than that.

  • A319
    • N5xxVA
  • A320
    • N3xxVA (146 seats and sharklets)
    • N6xxVA (149 seats and standard wingtip fences)
    • N8xxVA (146 seats and standard wingtip fences)

There you have it. This isn’t an entirely comprehensive guide to all airlines in the US, but combined with last week’s post on the 4 biggest airlines in the US, this guide covers most US airlines you’re likely to fly.

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19 Comments on "Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About US Airline Tail Numbers (Part 2)"

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Bill
Guest
I have a somewhat fanciful question. Are specific registration codes reserved exclusively for the airlines that use them? For instance, If I hit the lottery and bought myself a jet, would I be permitted to choose a (unique) registration that ends in UA, AA, DL, etc? Or are those reserved only for the airlines using them? Also, at what point is a registration surrendered or revoked? Do the decommissioned jets sitting in the Arizona desert still carry their registration numbers until they are presumably dismantled someday? Or are they stripped of their identifications once they are parked? Thank you for… Read more »
Steven Mohan
Guest

Yo are free to chose whatever registration you want, so long as it’s not taken. Now, the big airlines are probably going to reserve N-numbers that they anticipate using, but there’s nothing stopping you from registering a plane with N***DL

Example:
http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Results.aspx?NNumbertxt=185DL

nicholas.irving
Member

Cranky, I found a mistake in the Shuttle America list. There is an airplane numbered N958WH that is jokingly (or not) named after the COO Wayne Heller.

Bob
Member

For Chautauqua, I believe the SK is related to who financed the airplanes – which I think was Synovus (sp?) Capital.

Oliver
Guest

Do you know why JetBlue does the re-registering after lease end?

Bob
Member
Editing my earlier post, it is Solitair Kapital. per Chautauqua’s SEC filing: In July 1999, Chautauqua entered into an agreement with Solitair Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Solitair Kapital AB. Solitair Kapital AB is controlled by Solitair Intressenter AB, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wexford Solitair Corp. Wexford Solitair Corp. is an affiliate of WexAir LLC, our sole stockholder. Pursuant to the agreement as currently in effect, Chautauqua has agreed to purchase Embraer regional jets from Solitair which had contracts to purchase such jets from Embraer. Solitair is required to sell the firm aircraft to Chautauqua. As of the date hereof,… Read more »
Steven Mohan
Guest

Another fun fact: most us registered Beech 1900Ds are registered with the three numbers of the registration corresponding to the construction number, i.e. UE-261 is N261GL. Great Lakes also uses this scheme for its EMB-120s.

TC
Guest

Interesting read, I would assume if a new type of aircraft would be ordered, the airline ordering it would have reserved a range of tail (id) numbers for the aircraft as they are delivered by the manufacturer.

Another interesting topic would be how some airlines got their codes when it doesn’t match their initials. For example, B6 for Jetblue, JJ for Tam, etc…

Greg McCarron
Guest

Cranky,

Thanks for all the information you give to us. I think there is a slight correction to the Skywest list. It appears that the former Horizon 700’s flying for Alaska under the Alaska/skywest color scheme seem to have been re registered as N2xxAG.

Nick Barnard
Member

Yeah, I noted that too. It looks like the Horizon CRJ700s that went to Skywest but are flown under the Alaska brand got AG as their suffix (for “Alaska Group”?)

The CRJ700s that retained the QX suffix seem to be flying under other brands.

Ed Reynolds
Guest

The FAA Registry web site also lists former aircraft that were registered with the same number.

JuliaZ
Member

Virgin Galactic lost its sub-space orbiter today. I bring this up to mention its tail number, which will likely be retired now: N339SS. The website linked to here has the photograph of this piece of wreckage.

So sorry to hear of the loss of one person in this crash, RIP.

JuliaZ
Guest

Eastern Airlines is coming back after 23 years, using its classic livery!
http://www.airliners.net/photo/Eastern-Air-Lines/Boeing-737-8AL/2534317/M/
The first tail number will be N276EA.
Cool!

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