Every civil aircraft in the world is required to have a unique identifying code, allocated by the country of registration, under a system managed by ICAO – the International Civil Aviation Organization. But in the case of China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan things get rather rather complicated, given the relationship between the countries – so how do they avoid overlaps in their aircraft fleet?
People’s Republic of China
In the case of the People’s Republic of China, registration codes have a “B-” prefix followed by four digits: B-0000 to B-9999.
This system was further expanded in 2018 to include B-000A to B-999Z, B-00A0 to B-99Z9 and B-00AA to B-99ZZ codes.
Under British rule, aircraft of Hong Kong were registered with the “VR-H” prefix, followed by two letters: VR-HAA to VR-HZZ.
This changed following the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.
It was agreed at the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) in June 1997 that from July 1, 1997, aircraft registered in Hong Kong would use ‘B’, the unified nationality mark of China, as their nationality mark but they could continue to use a group of three letters beginning with the letter ‘H’ as their registration mark.
To allow time for Hong Kong airlines to amend the nationality marks on their aircraft, it was also agreed that there would be a six-month transitional period from July 1 to December 31, 1997, during which either ‘B’ or ‘VR’ could be used as the nationality marks for aircraft registered in Hong Kong on or before June 30, 1997. The change of nationality mark to ‘B’ was completed in early December.
Hong Kong aircraft moving to the B-HAA to B-HZZ group.
But new entrants to the industry saw a need for additional registration codes – B-KAA to B-KZZ (K following H for Hong Kong) and B-LAA to B-LZZ (L following K).
Macau had little use for locally registered aircraft given the lack of airports, until the launch of Air Macau and Macau International Airport in 1995. Under Portuguese rule aircraft were registered with the “CS-M” prefix as CS-MAA to CS-MZZ.
This changed following the transfer of sovereignty in 1999, when they were moved to the B-MAA to B-MZZ group.
Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, considers itself part of China so uses the “B-” prefix for aircraft registrations, but does not consider itself part of the People’s Republic of China, so operates a separate aircraft registry. So how do they avoid an overlap?
An aircraft after being registered shall display on a conspicuous spot the nationality emblem of the Republic of China and its registration number (hereinafter referred as markings).
The nationality emblem of Republic of China’s civil aircraft shall be represented by the English letter “B” followed by a 5-digit Arabic numbers aligned left to right in the order shown below：
1) nationality emblem followed by a dash.
2) registration number follows the dash.
Five digits instead of the four – resulting in the B-00000 to B-99999 group.
This replaced their previous usage of the B-000 to B-999 group.
And the B-0000 to B-9999 group.
A change made in 1995 following negotiations made through unofficial channels.
Footnote: some more confusion
Just to confuse matters, China Airlines of Taiwan had three aircraft registered under the “3B-” prefix – used by aircraft registered in Mauritius.
- Boeing 747-400 3B-SMC – leased from Singapore Airlines to replace B-165 after it crashed into Victoria Harbour,
- Airbus A320 3B-RGY and 3B-RGZ – leased between 1994 and 1997 to trial the aircraft type.
- Behind the Chinese aircraft registration code, there are so many stories (Chinese language)
- How Arcane “Tail Numbers” Tie The Fates Of Taiwan And China’s Air Carriers
- Wikipedia: Aircraft registration
- Wikipedia: List of aircraft registration prefixes
- 1997 Hong Kong Yearbook: Civil Aviation
- Wikipedia: Handover of Hong Kong
- Wikipedia: Transfer of sovereignty over Macau
- Regulations of Aircraft Registration – Laws & Regulations of The Republic of China