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Hiding in 'plane' sight

Hiding in 'plane' sight

Do you know how to track down an aircraft?

Roy Waligora

Partner, Head of Investigations and Corporates Forensics

KPMG in the UK


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The storyline goes: evil villain rushes to board a private jet before flying off into the sunset leaving the authorities behind never to be seen again. While this scenario may play out in Hollywood, in reality, it’s possible to track down the owner and its precise location – on the ground or in the air. 

Online flight trackers and civil aircraft registries are used during investigations when trying to determine where an individual has been, their current location and if they own a stake in a light aircraft or corporate jet that might be attached for litigation purposes.

If you have the registration number of the plane you’re looking for, the following online flight trackers can help you determine its current and previous locations:

  • Flightradar24 – A free-to-access plane tracking platform that lets you search and locate planes anywhere in the world in real-time by registration or flight number. The site also offers a subscription service which will give you additional information about an aircraft’s location and flight history.
  • FlightAware – This platform allows you to search by the aircraft type enabling you to find the location of a particular make of the aircraft in real-time anywhere in the world.

Don’t have the plane’s registration number?

Although this can be a bit trickier, depending on where the plane is registered and the information available, you may be in luck. Below is a potential work-around:  

  • If you have an image of the plane, look for its Aircraft Registration Prefix (‘ARP’), a unique country registration number usually painted on the tail or the rear half of its fuselage. 
  • Run the ARP through an online code registry to identify the country where the plane is registered. 
  • You can then search the relevant country’s registry using the ARP which should bring up your target aircraft, along with its ownership information and other details. The information available will vary across registries, with the US and the UK providing more flexibility than many others. 

For more information about our corporate intelligence services or to learn how we can help provide you with actionable intelligence and insight, please contact our Corporate Intelligence team.

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