Small, private aircraft often are used as a way to smuggle drugs into the United States. And the use of such planes for criminal purposes is made easier by lax registration rules and poor record-keeping.

Recently, a congressional committee listened as Florida detectives and a convicted drug conspirator talked about how easy it is for criminals to hide ownership of an aircraft, change tail numbers, and make structure modifications for the purpose of smuggling drugs.Each one blamed the laxity of Federal Aviation Administration rules - and poor record keeping.

FAA regulations require a U.S. Department of Transportation Bill of Sale form (including information on the model, serial number, etc.) and an aircraft registration certificate to be in the vehicle at all times.

But congressmen were told that 17,000 aircraft nationally are listed in an interim category of "sale reported," which means the registration might not be completed for ages. They were also told about the use of fictitious names, bogus addresses, illegible signatures, and other subterfuges to foil the government.

Most disturbing, they said, is that all procedures for FAA certification can be done by mail, requiring no verification of identities.

Fortunately, in Utah the process is tougher. The state has added an extra step to the process for those who operate or live primarily in the state, making it at least as difficult to register a private aircraft as it is to register a car.

Utah requires a personal appearance to register the aircraft, plus all the certification provided by the FAA. And it further requires proof of identification.

But more should be done, particularly in light of the number of planes involved in drug smuggling.

Among legislation being considered nationally are: requiring sales documents to be forwarded to the FAA, signatures to be accompanied by printed or typed names, and the use of photographs on pilots' licenses, as on drivers' licenses.