A district court judge for Washington, D.C., has ruled that aircraft tail numbers submitted to the FAA for blockage from distribution to sources outside the FAA under the National Business Aviation Association’s Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program must be made available in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The ruling does not permit the disclosure of real-time flight data, historical data, or operator names, according to NBAA officials.
“NBAA has long believed that security and other imperatives make it absolutely essential to protect our members’ aircraft and flight information from being made widely available, which is why we created the BARR program,” said Bob Lamond, NBAA Director, Air Traffic Services and Infrastructure. “Unfortunately, and in spite of our work to uphold the BARR program through every legal avenue available, the court has ruled the above information cannot remain permanently sealed.”
The BARR Program was established over a decade ago in response to security concerns and competitive considerations. The program, which allows flight information to be concealed from release outside the FAA, came under challenge in December 2008 when an investigative-journalism organization filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FAA seeking the tail numbers for aircraft which had been submitted to the FAA for blockage from public view.
Working with legal counsel, NBAA defended the confidentiality of the blocked tail numbers by filing an action with the District Court seeking a reversal of FAA’s determination to grant the FOIA request. After considering the matter for several months, on Feb. 26, the court declined to overrule the FAA’s decision to release the blocked tail numbers. The court’s ruling does not impact real-time or historical data on BARR-concealed flights.
“Obviously, NBAA views this as an unwise decision on the part of the court,” Lamond continued. “Nevertheless, our legal counsel has advised us that further appeals on the matter would not likely be productive.”
Lamond noted that although NBAA is unaware of what, if anything, the investigative-journalism organization intends to do with the information obtained through its FOIA request, operators with aircraft tail numbers included in the FAA Block List might be contacted by the news organization.