FAA Aircraft Registry Reaffirms its Position on Digital v. Electronic Signatures
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Memorandum to the FAA Public Documents Room on September 9, 2019, reiterating the position that it would accept documents with digital signatures, but not accept documents executed with only the electronic signature methodology. The Memorandum provides that “An electronic signature is a method of signing a document whereas a digital signature is the encryption/decryption technology of which an electronic signature is built. The digital signature secures the data associated with an electronically signed document.”
The Memorandum confirms that in the past the FAA Aircraft Registry (Registry) may have unknowingly accepted documents with merely electronic signatures. The most common electronic signatures filed with the Registry were produced with DocuSign or Adobe, but the Memorandum confirms both programs have a digital signature option that could be utilized.
By way of background, in May of 2016 the FAA issued a Notice of Policy Clarification for Acceptance of Documents With Digital Signatures (81 FR 23384). The Policy Clarification confirms that the Registry will accept printed duplicates of electronic documents that display legible, digital signatures that are filed in compliance with Parts 47 and 49 of the FAA Regulations (14 CFR parts 47 & 49). The Policy Clarification is clear that only digital signatures, as compared to the broader classification of electronic signatures, are acceptable. The Registry expands on the distinction between digital signatures and electronic signatures in its AFS-750 Change Bulletin 16-03, which further references FAA Order 1370.104, Digital Signature Policy.
The Policy Clarification goes on to provide that “A legible and acceptable digital signature will have, at minimum, the following components: (1) Shows the name of the signer and is applied in a manner to execute or validate the document; (2) Includes the typed or printed name of the signer below or adjacent to the signature when the signature uses a digitized or scanned version of the signer’s hand scribed signature or the name is in a cursive font; (3) Shows the signer’s corporate, managerial, or partnership title as part of or adjacent to the digital signature when the signer is signing on behalf of an organization or legal entity; (4) Shows evidence of authentication of the signer’s identity such as the text ‘‘digitally signed by’’ along with the software provider’s seal/watermark, date and time of execution; or, have an authentication code or key identifying the software provider; and (5) Has a font, size and color density that is clearly legible and reproducible when reviewed, copied and scanned into a black on white format.”
Prior to the Policy Clarification, the Registry would only accept originally, ink signed documents. The use of digital signatures has certainly been a great benefit to the industry and very helpful for closing aircraft transactions which require filings with the Registry.
It is often difficult to determine if a document has been digitally executed, and different programs (such as DocuSign and Adobe) identify digitally executed signatures differently. Parties should be careful to make certain any documents filed with the Registry are ink signed originals or digitally executed in compliance with the Registry requirements.
Feel free to contact the aviation team at McAfee & Taft if you have any questions or comments.