The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) have declared that, following a court’s decision not to suspend the government’s looming deadline for curtailing the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, the three associations will move ahead toward a full hearing on the matter.
Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced its intention to disable the BARR program on Aug. 2. The decade-old, Congressionally enabled BARR program provides operators of private aircraft the ability to “opt out” of having their aviation movements tracked by anyone, anywhere in the world, who has an Internet connection. Earlier this year, the DOT announced plans to dismantle the program, citing a need for “transparency.” That move prompted NBAA and AOPA to take legal action in order to preserve privacy, safety, security and business competitiveness of those in GA.
On July 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a “motion for stay” filed by AOPA and NBAA to halt the DOT’s plan until the matter could be fully reviewed through the appellate process. The EAA filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting the motion for stay.
The court’s ruling is purely procedural, GA officials say, explaining it does not express a view on the merits of the BARR program, or the substance of the associations’ challenge to the DOT’s plan for dismantling it. The case will now proceed to the stage focusing on the merits, where the associations are confident the court will strike down the DOT’s unprecedented change to the BARR program.
The procedural ruling also means the court will not rule on the legality of DOT’s new policy until after it takes effect on Aug. 2. To minimize the burden of that new policy on the general aviation community, the associations will seek a prompt ruling overturning the agency’s action, officials said.
The ruling also does not impact legislation preserving the BARR included in the version of the FAA reauthorization passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in April. The House legislation awaits reconciliation with an FAA reauthorization measure passed by the Senate in February.
“It is enormously difficult to get a court to provide injunctive relief in advance of an actual hearing on the merits of the DOT’s plan to disable the BARR,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “We knew that we had a very high hurdle to clear for the court to approve our motion for stay, but we are committed to pursuing every legal avenue available to us. While we are disappointed by the court’s decision, it’s important to emphasize that it is a decision based on a request for an emergency halt, not on the merits of the BARR program, or the DOT’s intention to severely curtail it. We will have an opportunity for our case against the DOT’s plan to be heard in court, and we will do everything we can to move that process forward as quickly as possible.”
AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller added: “Having taken this early procedural step with our motion for stay, we now turn our full attention and resources to the hearing on the merits of the BARR program, and we believe firmly that we will prevail in that part of the process. Although the DOT may succeed in making near-term modifications to the BARR program, we believe strongly that the court will ultimately agree with us on the need to preserve it.”
EAA President and CEO Rod Hightower added: “We also know that the support we have in Congress for the BARR is incredibly strong; not only has the House included in its FAA reauthorization bill legislation for preserving the program, but a bipartisan coalition of 59 legislators – 26 Senators and 33 Members of the House – have called upon the DOT Secretary to shelve his agency’s plans to eliminate the BARR. We urge Congress to continue working to pass a final FAA reauthorization bill, which would bring resolution to this matter.”