DOT move would allow anyone to follow flight plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The decision by the Department of Transportation to change the rules and let anyone in the world follow any general aviation aircraft on an instrument flight plan — departure point, route and destination — may be challenged in court by three of GA’s alphabet groups. The National Business Aviation Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and Experimental Aircraft Association are preparing to seek an injunction to prevent the change from taking effect and then ask the court to invalidate the change all together.

Since 1997, air carriers, corporations that own their own aircraft, professional aviation organizations, and government agencies have had access to real time flight information about airlines and general aviation through Aircraft Situational Display to Industry (ASDI) and National Airspace System Status Information (NASSI) websites. Other members of the public have been able to subscribe to the information. However, through the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, any general aviation operator who wished could block the release of flight plan information for privacy reasons. If BARR is eliminated, such information may be blocked only for “a valid security concern,” according to DOT officials.

Elimination of the BARR program was announced by the DOT May 27 and published in the Federal Register June 2. It goes into effect Aug. 2 unless the threatened court action is successful or the DOT doesn’t recognize the weakness of its reasons for eliminating BARR.

One reason stated by Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation, for eliminating the BARR program is that “both general aviation and commercial aircraft use the public airspace and air traffic control facilities, and the public has a right to information about their activities.” The weakness of this argument is that streets, highways, and waterways are also public. This raises the question that if departure point, route, and destination cannot be a private matter for aircraft, would the same information for autos, busses, trucks, and boats also be subject to required public release?

A second reason offered by LaHood is the move to let anyone know the who, what, when and where of aircraft movements “is in keeping with the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency in government.” Of course, the movements of general aviation are not government actions, but perhaps the good secretary doesn’t know this.

As Craig Fuller, AOPA president and CEO, said, ironically, “the DOT blocks out movements of its own aircraft — a right it wants to deny to citizens.” Perhaps the secretary isn’t aware that DOT is part of the government, which he says is to be transparent.

“We are outraged at the government’s move,” said Ed Bolen, NBAA’s president and CEO. “This incomprehensible policy reversal gives anyone in the world — terrorist, criminal, tabloid stalker, business competitor — the equivalent of a homing device to track the movement of citizens and companies in real time.”

Rod Hightower, EAA president and CEO, said his group should have the same privacy rights as all other citizens, noting DOT’s announced elimination of BARR “is a significant step in removing our privacy rights as aviators and as American citizens.”

Some in general aviation also see the possibility of the elimination of privacy resulting in added danger to some flights. Pilots not wanting their every move known might fly VFR in marginal weather instead of filing an IFR flight plan.

The three organizations banding together in the legal challenge action are not the only opponents to the questionable DOT elimination of BARR. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are a few of the other groups that have opposed the elimination of BARR.

The outcome of the latest attempt by both Houses of Congress to finally get agreement for a full-term reauthorization of the FAA could also affect the DOT announcement to eliminate BARR. Reauthorization passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives has a provision that would keep the BARR program. The version passed in the Senate does not have such a provision. Conferees are trying to reach agreement on FAA reauthorization before the 19th short-term extension expires June 30.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.


  1. C Daniels says

    If the BARR program is cancelled my company will be forced to stop participating if flight following. We will fly VFR without flight following into some of the most congested areas in the nation. Some of the areas we have been in lately are L.A., Phoenix, and Chicago. In my companies business there are over 150 aircraft work and where there is one there will be two or three other. You will see more close call and traffic alerts if the BARR program is cancelled it will be the old west all over again.

  2. Dennis Lyons says

    If the difference in your competiveness is the BARR program or not, maybe you need to rethink your business plan. If your competitor ‘tasks’ an employee to watch you, you are obviously doing something right and adding to the expense of your competitor by one unnecessary employee. Miami Mike’s argument using the campers doesn’t hold water–most campers are not corporate owned, most jets are. Most corporations have stockholders who are interested in how the assets of the company are used to make them money. The elimination of the BARR program will not affect how corporate america uses their airplanes. I find the security ‘issue’ to be a non-starter, after all we now have prison fences around many airports in this country. It might influence the decision to take the corporate jet to Maui. No one is going to be flying a G-V at 17,500′ just to avoid the IFR system and tracking. I agree that the DOT airplanes should adhere to the same rules as the rest of us, but they already don’t–like AD’s do not have to be complied with on government owned airplanes even on FAA airplanes! If I had $1 for every time I’ve been promised “more transparency” in government, then I could buy that G-V. That dream will never happen in my lifetime.

  3. Dennis Gray says

    Has anyone asked the people who support the BARR program if they would like to have
    a GPS device attached to their automobile. I’m sure their wife/husband /boss would love to know where they are every minute of the dayor night.

  4. Albemuth says

    One need only to take a quick look Southward to see the benefits of the transparent movement of vehicles, vessels and independent individuals. Let’s eliminate BARR and the ability to turn off the GPS transmitter in their cellphones as well so that anyone who wishes can locate whomsoever they wish for a friendly chat or, perhaps, to suspend them inverted and headless from an overpass.

    Alternately, we can use the information in conjunction with irradiation and strip searches of little girls to ensure terrorists aren’t hiding in their pockets. Keep it up, America, and while we are at it, let’s re-elect Joe McCarthy. Seems Bin Laden has won after all, doesn’t it?

  5. M Flyer says

    I believe this is a lot of talk about nothing. I think there is a mediocre argument on either side, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference in the big picture. Can a competitor see where your plane is going? Sure, but they don’t know who is on the plane or the purpose of the flight. I fly my personal plane on business very frequently, and have no issue with my competitors or general public being able to follow it if they are so inclined.

  6. DW says

    Chuckl – Obviously some Liberal that feels that everything belongs to the Government. First of Chuckl – WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW WHER I AM FLYING??? 2nd off Chuckl, if this was to come into affect – I will register my aircraft not in my Corporate name, nor my personal name – but in some alias LLC I form in Delaware. Go ahead and follow me!!
    3rd, I will file my flight plan to Denver and then cancel and drop into WHEREVER I want to land (Vail, Colorado Springs, Denver, ETC.).
    4th, This will create a nightmare for ATC, Pilots will take off VFR, file a bogus flight plan to a destination and then cancel enroute when the weather permits. DO YOU REALLY like the idea of me scooting along at 440 knots at 10,500 feet. I am cool with it Chuckl as I have TCAS and radar and all the bells and whistles, I can see you – You can’t see me! Remember that when I scoot right over you and leave you with some “wake”..
    It concerns me that we have given up so many rights to this liberal Administration and yet he wants more and more, next he will probably want us to register our guns with the U.N. OH, Crap – HE DOES!!! Hmmm, I love the idea of registering my guns, my plane, my house, my life to a group that supports the Muslim way of life and would like to see America become “MORE MUSLIM LIKE”!!

  7. Todd says

    Having to disclose your use of the airspace to others doesn’t seem right anymore than requiring Apple and AT&T to disclose your use of the airspace and the public spectrum anytime you make a cell phone call.

  8. Chuckl says

    If “forcing some pilots to fly in marginal weather instead of filing an IFR flight plan” is a major excuse for disclosing, the aviation community is better off without them, since they don’t have the reasoning skills necessary to competent decision makers.

    This whole thing sounds like a poorly disguised excuse for some very wealthy individuals or corporations to try and hide costly or unnecessary, flights from stockholders or public policy makers. If religious supporters knew how much money the leaders of some of their groups wasted on luxury travel, the “donation well” could dry up. It would be the same resultant bad PR that the “Big Three” automakers got when they each came to Washington in separate private jets to ask for a bailout. Biz jets are an importantly tool, but one that should be used judiciously.

    I have no problem with blocking flight tracking for flights with legitimate security issues.

  9. JE says

    How will this impact Flight Following? Cross-country VFR safety is enhanced by using ATC’s Flight Following service. The Flight Following flight information is available through internet services. I assume BARR prevents the data from being shared. How many VFR pilots will discontinue using this service?

  10. says

    Miami Mike pretty much summed it up. Plus, This will undoubtly lead to aircraft “scud running”, “punching out”, Biz jets smoking along at 17,500 or less for short trips, Etc. This is an awful piece of legislation, very dangerous in many, many ways…

    Veteran pilot

  11. Miami Mike says

    State of Florida had to close off public access to DMV records (specifically license plates) a few years ago. Reason: People with binoculars standing on I-95 overpasses reading license plates of passing cars with particular attention to those towing campers or packed for vacation. They would then check with the DMV, get the address and go burglarize the unoccupied homes, knowing the homeowners were safely out of town.

    Many boats and yachts are registered in Delaware because Delaware allows anonymous ownership of corporations (which then owns the boat). Reason: “Hey, let’s go kidnap so and so’s daughter and hold her for ransom, that’s HIS big yacht over there, and anyone who can afford a big yacht can pay the ransom!!!”

    Airplane owners need the same protections. I do not want my competitors to know where I am going and when. I do not want random people to know I am out of town until X, and where I went. I will CERTAINLY task one of my employees to spy on my competition because the elimination of BARR will enable this! I’m not anxious to become a target of anti-aviation environmental activists or other wackos who will now be able to track my every aviation movement.

    Oh I almost forgot – If I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear, right? Where have I heard that before?

    If all IFR flight plans become publicly available, then I intend to fly VFR instead. Where I legally go and what I legally do are no one’s business but my own.

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