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What is the significance of airplane tail numbers?

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Quick Answer

Airplane tail numbers are essentially what VIN numbers are to cars; they use a series of alphanumeric codes to identify the country of origin, flight path, tax status and plane class, such as commercial or private. Airplane tail numbers vary among countries and also differ between private and commercial planes. Like car license plates, these numbers can be tailored to name a brand, company or other distinguishing feature.

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Full Answer

Although an international standard exists for creating plane ID numbers, some countries choose specific formats. In the United States, commercial planes all begin with the letter "N," which is followed by a dash and set of numbers. In this country, numbers are used to help identify planes because of the large number of aircraft. These suffix numbers must contain anywhere from one to five digits and may not include the letters "I" and "O."

Older aircraft in the United States have a third component on the tail number, which is a letter indicating the category. Commercial airlines have a "C," while gliders have a "G," state or government planes have an "S," limited planes have an "L" and restricted aircraft bear an "R." Some planes have vanity identities, such as G-Suga, which is the private plane of Lord Alan Sugar; N1KE, which is a Nike aircraft; and N808T, which is the plane of actor Tom Cruise.

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