An extract on #aircraft
The registration identifier must be displayed prominently on the aircraft. Most countries also require the registration identifier to be imprinted on a permanent fireproof plate mounted on the fuselage in case of a post-fire/post-crash aircraft accident investigation. Military aircraft typically use tail codes and serial numbers.
Although each aircraft registration identifier is unique, some countries allow it to be re-used when the aircraft has been sold, destroyed or retired. For example, N3794N is assigned to a Mooney M20F. It had been previously assigned to a Beechcraft Bonanza (specifically, the aircraft in which Buddy Holly was killed). Also note that an individual aircraft may be assigned different registrations during its existence. This can be because the aircraft changes ownership, jurisdiction of registration, or in some cases for vanity reasons.
The first use of aircraft registrations was based on the radio callsigns allocated at the London International Radiotelegraphic Conference in 1913. The format was a single letter prefix followed by four other letters (like A-BCDE). The major nations operating aircraft were allocated a single letter prefix. Smaller countries had to share a single letter prefix, but were allocated exclusive use of the first letter of the suffix. This was modified by agreement by the International Bureau at Berne and published on April 23, 1913. Although initial allocations were not specifically for aircraft but for any radio user, the International Air Navigation Convention held in Paris in 1919 (Paris Convention of 1919) made allocations specifically for aircraft registrations, based on the 1913 callsign list. The agreement stipulated that the nationality marks were to be followed by a hyphen then a group of four letters that must include a vowel (and for the convention Y was considered to be a vowel). This system operated until the adoption of the revised system in 1928.
The International Radiotelegraph Convention at Washington in 1927 revised the list of markings. These were adopted from 1928 and are the basis of the currently used registrations. The markings have been amended and added to over the years, and the allocations and standards have since 1947 been managed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Article 20 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention), signed in 1944, requires that all aircraft engaged in international air navigation bears its appropriate nationality and registration marks. Upon registration, the aircraft receives its unique "registration", which must be displayed prominently on the aircraft.
Annex 7 to the Chicago Convention describes the definitions, location, and measurement of nationality and registration marks. The aircraft registration is made up of a prefix selected from the country's callsign prefix allocated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (making the registration a quick way of determining the country of origin) and the registration suffix. Depending on the country of registration, this suffix is a numeric or alphanumeric code, and consists of one to five digits or characters respectively. A supplement to Annex 7 provides an updated list of approved nationality and common marks used by various countries.