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FAA to make business aircraft flight data publicly available

Against strong opposition within the general aviation and business aviation communities, the FAA boldly announced on June 3 that it would no longer withhold from the public detailed identification information about specific business aircraft using the national airspace, unless those aircraft had previously established a “Certified Security Concern,” based on bona fide fears of death, kidnapping, terrorism or other bodily harm.

Currently, a wide variety of business, general aviation and “on-demand” commercial airplanes are able to request that the registration numbers for their planes and the flight-tracking data that describes their planes’ specific flights, should be withheld from public disclosure in two nationally-distributed information systems. One system is known as the “Industry Access to Aircraft Situation Display,” or ASDI, and the other is called the “National Airspace System Status Information,” or NASSI.

For years, it has been relatively easy for general and business aviation owners, operators and passengers to keep specific information about their aircraft and flights private, but beginning on August 2, the FAA intends to change that.

In a notice published in the Federal Register on June 3, the agency announced that “the FAA will no longer accommodate requests to bar the release of aircraft flight tracking data unless an aircraft owner or operator provides a Certified Security Concern, as defined in this Notice.”

A variety of associations (including the National Business Aviation Association, the National Air Transportation Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and others) and several law firms (including Patton Boggs LLP and McAfee & Taft P.C.) have raised objections to the proposed new FAA rule, based on their concerns for personal privacy, business confidentiality and security.

Among many commenters to the FAA were an executive with an Oklahoma-based national insurance company. “This is a very competitive business and I am sure a number of our competitors would like to track our movements as we service customers, service claims, work on insurance treaties, arrange reinsurance, plan mergers, open and close offices, recruit key employees, etc.,” that executive told the FAA. “Also I do not believe it is anyone’s business who the passengers are on board our aircraft and where we are going.”

Senator Mark Pryor (D-AK) wrote FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt on April 1, 2011 to object to the proposed changes to what is known as the “Block Aircraft Registration Request,” or BARR, program. “It is my understanding that the BARR Program, which was created with the approval of Congress and the support of the Clinton Administration, has worked well for over a decade, and I am not aware of any compelling new information that necessitates such a sweeping change,” wrote the senator.

Michael McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer of the Global Business Travel Association, which says its 5,000 members “manage over $340 billion of global business travel,” saw no reason to revise the current BARR program. “The program has successfully afforded aircraft operators the ability to protect their operations and prevent strangers from tracking individual movements,” McCormick observed in his letter to FAA Administrator Babbitt.   

Despite those concerns, and hundreds more filed with the agency, the FAA has chosen to go a different route.

“The benefits to disclose, in the ASDI/NASSI data-feed, those aircraft without Certified Security Concerns, would inure to the public in the form of more transparency and openness as to the use by general aviation aircraft of the Federally-subsidized airports and airways,” said the FAA.

Aircraft owners and operators seeking to establish a Certified Security Concern must apply to the FAA by July 5 if they hope to have their flight data withheld when the new rules become effective on August 2, says the FAA notice. Owners and operators of “on-demand” aircraft, who hope to obtain a “Valid Security Concern” on a temporary basis for an ad hoc flight, must provide advance notice to the FAA at least 30 days before the intended flight.

The FAA began to make aviation traffic flow data available to the public in 1997. “The data consists of near real time position and other relevant flight data for every civil IFR [instrument flight rules] aircraft receiving radar services within the NAS [national air space],” explained the FAA’s notice.

This data traditionally has been “filtered” to exclude specific information about military flights, sensitive operations, Presidential flights, drug interdiction flights and other law enforcement efforts.

The ASDI data-feed includes the latitude and longitude of the aircraft, its call sign, airspeed, altitude, heading and flight plan information (including its origination and destination airports.) “The information allows tracking of individual flights through the conclusion of each flight,” said the notice.

However, due primarily to the concerns raised by the National Business Aviation Association, the registration numbers that identify specific business and general aviation airplanes often have not been publicly available on the ASDI “hubsite.”

Further information about these planned modifications to the BARR program is available from Barry Davis, of the FAA, at 540-422-4650 or [email protected].


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