Privacy Considerations for Aircraft Owners (Part 3)

Concluding his series exploring ways in which aircraft owners can protect their privacy relating to aircraft ownership and operating information, James Janaitis, Counsel with Crowell & Moring’s Aviation Group, explores privacy protection from flight tracking software…

AvBuyer  |  28th September 2021
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Besides publicly accessible FAA records, the other major privacy risk for General Aviation aircraft owners and operators comes from flight tracking (and related) software products that enable easy access to flight tracking information.

The amount of flight-related information available on these products is extensive, and includes aircraft ownership information, departure and destination airports, and timing of aircraft take-off and landing, as well as altitude, speed, and heading during a flight.

This information is available both on a live basis for ongoing flights, and on an historical basis for completed flights. The services offer both free and subscription options, with the subscription option generally including a broader scope of data and more historical records.

Air Navigation Service Provider Data – LADD Program

The data used by these products comes primarily from two sources. The first is Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP). The applicable ANSP varies between countries and regions, but in the United States the air navigation services provider is the FAA’s air traffic control network.

The ANSP collects data from various sources including radar systems, air traffic control towers, flight plans, and ADS-B positioning data. It then provides third-party companies with access to the information, which the companies provide to the general public through their flight-tracking software.

Recognizing that not all aircraft owners want their flight data to be readily available to the general public, the FAA has implemented the Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) program.

The LADD program superseded the more limited Block Aircraft Registry Request (BARR) program with which many aircraft owners and operators are familiar. There are two levels of blocking available under the LADD program:

  1. ‘Subscriber-Level Blocking’: With subscriber-level blocking the FAA flight data will be transmitted to third-parties, but the third-party must demonstrate to the FAA that its software will block the data from being displayed to the general public.
  2. ‘Source Blocking’: With source blocking the FAA will not transmit flight data to any third-parties. Although source blocking provides the highest level of privacy, and the least risk of an inadvertent disclosure, it also prevents individual owners from tracking their own aircraft.

With subscriber-level blocking an owner can provide permission for certain third-party companies to display flight information for their aircraft in a manner that is accessible only to the owner, and other parties approved by the owner.

Additional information about the LADD program, as well as the various options for requesting inclusion in the program, can be found at ladd.faa.gov.

ADS-B Data – PIA Program

The second source of data for flight tracking software is ADS-B receivers. Almost all civil aircraft operating in the US are required to have an ADS-B transmitter, which transmits altitude, GPS position, horizontal and vertical velocity, and other data.

This information is intended to be used by ANSPs as part of its traffic monitoring and separation function, and by other aircraft with ADS-B receivers that can use the data to maintain separation. However, it can be accessed by anyone with an ADS-B receiver, and some companies have used a network of ADS-B receivers to collect and display the flight information through their flight-tracking software.

Fortunately, the FAA has implemented a privacy solution for ADS-B data through the Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) program. 

Along with the flight information transmitted by an ADSB transmitter is an ICAO aircraft address; an international standard that is specific to the ADS-B transmitter, and is connected to the aircraft’s registration (Permanent ICAO Address). 

Under the PIA program the FAA will provide an alternate, temporary ICAO address (Alternate ICAO Address) that is not connected to the aircraft’s registration. Instead, the Alternate ICAO Address will be connected to an alternate callsign provided by a third party. 

The connection between this alternate callsign and the aircraft registration will be available only to certain governmental agencies that may need to identify the aircraft for safety or security purposes. 

Anonymous internet user searching for information

Participation in the PIA program requires an aircraft owner to work through a more complicated process than what is required to participate in the LADD program: 

  • First the aircraft owner must submit a request to the FAA, after which the FAA will provide the Alternate ICAO Address, via email, within 10 business days.
  • Within 30 days of receipt of the FAA’s email, the aircraft owner must program their ADS-B transmitter with the Alternate ICAO Address, then perform a validation flight to confirm that it is broadcasting properly. The validation flight does not need to be a separate flight, and can be performed during any routine flight of the aircraft.
  • As an extra level of privacy protection an owner may request a new Alternate ICAO Address every 60 days.

Additional information about the PIA program, as well as the steps for requesting inclusion in the program, can be found at faa.gov/nextgen/equipadsb/privacy/.

The Limitations of LADD and PIA

There are two main limitations that affect both the LADD and PIA programs. First, they only apply domestically within the United States. Foreign ANSPs may transmit flight information to third-parties in accordance with their own policies, resulting in flight information being readily available to the general public while you operate in certain regions and countries.

Alternate ICAO Addresses may only be used in US airspace, and when operating outside of the US, aircraft operators must revert to the Permanent ICAO Address.

The other limitation is that any information held by the FAA is subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) unless it falls within one of the limited exceptions. The information subject to disclosure could include all flight information collected by the FAA, including historical data.

Submitting a FOIA request is not difficult, but it does take time and require a certain level of sophistication and knowledge of the specific information being targeted.

In Summary…

As described across this three-part series, there are multiple methods that an aircraft owner can utilize to help ensure that its ownership and operating information remains private.

The use of an SPE or trust to own the aircraft can ensure that the general public cannot easily access an aircraft owner’s information, while the use of a double trust structure can further enhance protection of aircraft ownership information.

Taking these steps also provides a basic level of protection from flight tracking software because, while these programs will still show the registration and flight information for the aircraft, only the name of the SPE or trust will be displayed.

Enrolling in the LADD and PIA programs will prevent third-parties from tracking an aircraft’s movements, which provides an extra layer of protection, even if the third-party has somehow connected the name of the ultimate beneficial owner to its aircraft.

To conclude, be proactive in identifying the risks to your privacy as an aircraft owner/operator; be encouraged that there are solutions available to help nullify the threat; but be smart in seeking the relevant counsel in structuring the right solution(s) for your operation.

More information from www.crowell.com/practices/aviation

Read Privacy Considerations for Aircraft Owners (Part 1)

Read Privacy Considerations for Aircraft Owners (Part 2)

About the Author

Jim Janaitis is a counsel with Crowell & Moring’s Aviation practice group.

He focuses on helping Business Aviation clients navigate transactions and the complex regulatory challenges that come with owning, operating, and chartering aircraft.

He has extensive experience in the sale, purchase, leasing, and financing of aircraft, and implementing ownership and operational structures tailored to each individual client’s goals.

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