The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) say they will mount a legal challenge to the decision by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to dismantle the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. The three associations will seek an injunction to prevent the decision from taking effect and will ask the courts to invalidate the new policy altogether.
NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said: “The DOT’s inexplicable decision last week to abandon a widely supported, Congressionally enabled policy permitting private citizens to opt out of publicly available flight tracking applications leaves us no choice but to challenge the move in court. The agency appears to have simply ignored the thousands of individuals and companies that voiced their strong and principled opposition to this change.
“This is an alarming development, with implications that extend well beyond private aviation,” Bolen continued. “The government necessarily collects a lot of information about private activities in order to conduct legitimate governmental functions. This is the first time an agency has claimed the public’s interest in ‘open government’ requires public dissemination to anyone with an Internet connection of wholly personal and private information simply because it happens to be in the government’s possession.”
AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller agreed, adding: “Common sense dictates that an American citizen using a private aircraft should not have to worry about government disclosure to the general public — in direct contravention of the citizen’s expressed wishes – of real-time data regarding the location of the aircraft in flight and its itinerary. Anyone with an Internet connection will be able to find out that the person is away from home, or that the individual is conducting business in a particular location. To limit privacy protection only to those who can show a threat of life endangerment simply strains credulity.
“Our associations are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that our members retain the ability to prevent their airplane movements from being tracked by cyber-stalkers, terrorists, criminals, paparazzi, business competitors or others whose motives are unknown,” he continued. “Air-traffic and law-enforcement authorities have always enjoyed ready access to general aviation flight information, even with the BARR in place, and we don’t want that to change. The reason we’re taking legal action is because we believe getting on an airplane shouldn’t amount to a surrender of a citizen’s basic privacy protections.”
Bolen added: “Congress, which enabled the FAA’s aircraft identification blocking program over a decade ago, is actively considering safeguards to ensure the program’s preservation. We could not be more pleased with the support for the BARR program shown by Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of Congress. Unfortunately, the administration’s sudden, unilateral decision to curtail the program forces us to look to the courts for help in preserving the privacy, competitiveness and security of Americans and American companies while Congress reviews the program.”
EAA President and CEO Rod Hightower said: “EAA believes strongly that the privacy rights of aviators must be equal to those of any American. This is an important issue that must be handled appropriately and with due process. The disregard of our members’ position by the DOT is an alarming development and seems to be a significant step in removing our privacy rights as aviators and as American citizens. The large majority of our members surveyed expressed the desire to keep BARR in effect as Congress has intended. It seems to me the people have spoken, not only as aviators, but through due legislative process with our Congress more than 10 years ago. EAA will join AOPA and NBAA to preserve the unique aviation freedoms we all enjoy, and depend upon, in this great country.”
The DOT announced its intention to dismantle the BARR on May 27, in spite of overwhelming opposition from individuals and organizations in and outside the aviation community. The agency formalized its plans in a rule published in the Federal Register on June 2.