FAA develops plan to preserve aircraft owners privacy as ADS-B becomes mandatory

The FAA has developed a plan to allow aircraft owners who have equipped with ADS-B to opt out of real-time flight tracking.

While ADS-B Out will be required for all aircraft operating in most U.S. airspace starting Jan. 1, 2020, the mandate has caused some aircraft owners to worry about their aircraft data — especially location — being broadcast over the Internet.

In a move to ensure operator security and privacy, the FAA will establish new terms-of-service agreements with aircraft tracking service providers that will limit the sharing of aircraft data, if aircraft owners want to opt out from having their flight information broadcast over the Internet. The new terms of service are expected to go into effect by year’s end.

Under Phase 1 of the “Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) Program,” which is expected to be in place by Jan.1, 2020, the FAA will set up a web portal to accept requests from aircraft owners who wish to block real-time ADS-B position and identification information for their aircraft. These owners will be issued an alternative, temporary International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aircraft address, which will not be connected to their aircraft information in the FAA Aircraft Registry.

In Phase 2, which is expected to start in mid-2020, the PIA program will be transitioned to third-party service providers. Only organizations vetted by the FAA, such as law enforcement, will be able to reverse-look-up the true identity of an aircraft.

Flight tracking websites, like Plane Finder, show information for all airplanes, from airliners to general aviation.

According to Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, the lack of a privacy solution “has been a disincentive for some operators to equip with ADS-B. No one should have to surrender their privacy and security just because they board an airplane.”

He notes that aircraft owners are concerned because ADS-B Out transponders — used to broadcast aircraft identification, position, altitude and velocity to other aircraft, as well as to air traffic control (ATC) – include aircraft data linked to the aircraft registry. Anyone using inexpensive, commercially available radios can capture these wireless ATC communications, while flight-tracking websites use this data to publicly disseminate information on aircraft movements.

Some in the aviation industry worry that “bad actors could use this information to track government and business leaders and commit acts of corporate espionage, extortion, or terrorism,” he noted.

Previously, aircraft owners who wanted to block the display of their aircraft data could submit a Block Aircraft Registry Request (BARR). That program has been renamed the Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) program.

Companies that track aircraft must now:

  • Demonstrate their ability to block display of aircraft data from their public display systems
  • Block from public display aircraft registration numbers, call signs or flight numbers included on the FAA-provided LADD (block) list
  • Not display historical data for any aircraft registration or call sign while the aircraft is included in the LADD list

If the FAA determines that a vendor has willfully violated these terms of service, the agency may suspend or stop providing data to the vendor.

Aircraft owners who do not wish to have their aircraft data shared can submit LADD requests via a dedicated web page. That page also has information if you’d rather email the FAA or mail the request to the FAA.

Owners can request “FAA source blocking,” in which aircraft data is limited to FAA use only, or “subscriber blocking,” in which flight data is only made available to select vendors.

The LADD program was developed in response to FAA reauthorization legislation language that calls upon the agency to update its data policies to ensure aircraft owners’ right to privacy when using the ATC system.

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View Comments (15)

  • Another article with bad, factually incorrect information about where ADS-B will be required. Has anyone read 91.225? It will NOT be required in most airspace.
    Can we please put this falsehood to rest?

    • Sir, (Capt Joe), perhaps a reread of 91.225 may very well be in order, ...but for you? Just look at the Mode C veil adverse effects alone to GA airports, and blockage of common (safe - over land) flight paths. And that's not even counting the new rule covered Class C airspace and above, where most Navy jets will NEVER be equipped (e.g., KNUW), ever, which nearly totally blocks non-compliant aircraft from flying safe over-land trajectories between non-rule airspace. Or try flying from an airport like Auburn WA to Friday Harbor WA. Or Arlington WA to Thun Field, ....or all over the east coast. You're completely missing the point of how damaging this ill-advised and unnecessary 91.225 rule is going to be to adversely affect GA. And it was all unnecessary, and could have been done a different way to still have ADS-B's capability and benefits, if only FAA had not screwed up ADS-B, and if they just used ADS-B as it was originally intended (and as other countries will now do). The FAA could have instead used ANY GPS source, and need NOT have foolishly required WAAS based positions at all. Then they absurdly trying to steal the ADS-B concept to use it to (unsuccessfully) replace radar (which is still needed for both security and integrity reasons). Bottom line is that we could have had a BETTER form of ADS-B, for vastly less cost, that was able to be used by nearly all air-vehicles (it could have even likely cost less than $100 for some airspace users like drones, and gliders, and parachutists), ...and that was NOT proposed to be used foolishly by FAA, for ATS "Pseudo radar" separation purposes. That instead should have been the role for RNP trajectories and ADS-C (as it now is with FANS globally, since the 1990s). The current anti-privacy tracking issues are only the tip of the iceberg virus for this absurd corrupted FAA form of a once excellent original idea of ADS-B, to instead primarily be used as a short range air-air link safety link, for in-flight traffic separation awareness.

  • While the basic idea of ADS-B as an Air-Air short range link was once a very good concept, FAA has now hopelessly fouled it up. On security alone, many technical experts assert that even the FAA's new ADS-B privacy protection methods are likely to be overall ineffective, and could easily be circumvented by modestly creative and inexpensive methods. DoD wisely will NEVER equip with, or routinely use ADS-B for many of their aircraft. Period. It is much too easy to foil, hack, spoof, or use for unintended purposes. ADS-B was never invented in the first place to be a substitute for ATS "Pseudo-Radar" capability. Instead, it was invented as a short range air-air link (with the birth of FANS, and with RNP), with depending on ADS-A and ADS-C (which can be readily made highly secure) to be used as the high integrity reliable and economic trajectory exchange link to ATS, for separation services. FAA has now hopelessly fouled up this entire original ADS-B concept with requiring RTCA DO-260B compliance reference 91.225/.227, and the next few years are going to be "most interesting", as the under 50% overall ADS-B equipage rate for the US operating fleet consequence comes home to roost. NextGen itself, along with FAA's foolish version of ADS-B, is heading toward a $40B failure.

    • How do you define US operating Fleet? Is that the 50% of airplanes that are actually flying on a regular basis? Then we're good. Because you realize about a third of all US registered general aviation aircraft hardly ever move. And the remaining 15 or 20% of those that are active that don't have a ADS - B probably aren't flying in class Bravo or class Charlie or class Alpha.

  • How will this affect companies that aggregate ADS data from private ground based ADS receivers? Such as ADS-B exchange? These people bypass the FAA data stream and create their own data from thousands of ground based radio receivers run by hobbyists. And you can't just turn off N number broadcast because they still get the MODE S Base 16 hex code / ICAO code that can be resolved back to the N number.

    • This FAA proposal is to allow aircraft operators to periodically reprogram their Mode S hex code to a newly assigned code that no longer matches their aircraft registration N-number. Since the transponder's flight identifier will also be set to an operator callsign rather than the aircraft registration, it will be more difficult for such third-party entities to determine the actual aircraft registration.

  • Such a silly concern. True sites like Flight Aware will show your flight path using ADS-B data but no one can see it unless you have the correct login. This technology is more important than anything else in the cockpit. The FAA needs to keep the requirement strong.

    • I really don’t believe that ”this technology is more important than anything else in the cockpit”.

    • No, not a silly concern. The exact ID is completely unnecessary for safe flight. Location, velocity, and perhaps aircraft type is what’s needed for managing separation. In this country, it is completely reasonable to have some expectation of privacy in movement. I hope it doesn’t take a disaster for us to notice the idiocy of the system as built, but it probably will.

      • Yes, Tom, because normal law-abiding people need no expectation of privacy and would never have to worry about ex-spouses, cheating spouses, stalkers, disgruntled subordinates (or supervisors, for that matter), kidnapping, robbery at home while out of town, or any other intrusion. Of course.

        Say, can you give me your social security number and address? I have a gift to send you...

        • Other interested parties will be tax assessors who can use ADS-B to track aircraft action so they can determine a base for an aircraft so they can tax it. In California, for example, the use what they call the "Port Of Home Doctrine" where they ask for logbooks. If a plane flies from an airport and returns to that airport regularly, the assessor will say that the plane is based at that California airport and tax it. This is unfair and improperly used by taxing entitles.
          Other interested parties are repossession agents - if they see that a plane is in the air and track it they can seize a plane before it is locked away.
          The ability to hide flight following started when the rich and famous were (genuinely) worried about their safety. Oprah, Bill Gates etc didn't want tracking since a kidnapper could take them -- so ADS-B has to have an option where flights cannot be tracked.