April 19, 2011
By: Kerry Lynch
FAA’s plan to curtail most use of the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program is “dangerous, invasive and unwarranted” and could have far-reaching implications, says the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).
AOPA was one of the more than 600 commenters on FAA’s March 4 notice of a tentative decision to limit participation of the BARR to only those operators with a verifiable threat to their operations. Under BARR, aircraft operators may request that FAA exclude their aircraft identification numbers from Aircraft Situation Display to Industry (ASDI) and National Airspace System Status Information (NASSI) aircraft-tracking data feeds.
FAA announced its intention to limit participation in BARR in February, drawing an outcry from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and other business aviation advocates. The agency subsequently agreed to publish a notice and solicit comments on the change. FAA says the move is partially in response to a U.S. district court ruling that compelled the agency to disclose aircraft tail numbers under a Freedom of Information Act request.
But the overwhelming majority of commenters expressed strong opposition to the move. In addition, NBAA, which has made the issue a top priority since the announcement of FAA’s intentions, submitted a petition to the agency with more than 1,800 signatures urging FAA to withdraw the proposal. Although the petition already has been submitted, the association continues to take signatures.
NBAA also has worked with Congress in attempt to preserve the BARR program. House lawmakers included a provision in the House version of FAA reauthorization legislation that would protect the use of BARR. But the Senate must still accept that measure, and a final reauthorization agreement must still be reached.
“Dramatically limiting the BARR to only those with a known and specific security threat represents an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of aircraft owners and operators, a threat to the competitiveness of U.S. companies and a potential security risk to persons on board,” the NBAA petition states.
In separate comments, NBAA says FAA’s proposal “is fundamentally inconsistent with well-established public-policy principles regarding the government’s obligation to protect the sanctity of wholly private conductÂ – principles that are currently receiving more attention than ever from the administration, other agencies and Congress.” NBAA adds that FAA’s notice fails to identify any public benefit for the changes to BARR.
A number of other general aviation organizations submitted comments echoing those sentiments and endorsing NBAA’s position. “We have significant concerns about the implications on safety, security, privacy and confidentiality that would emerge if the proposed changes entered into effect,” says the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).
GAMA argues that FAA is wrong to point to the district court ruling, since the ruling “does not extend to the release of real-time flight tracking data of private aircraft to the general public.”
AOPA calls the FAA proposal “a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist without due regard for the adverse impact it may have on private individual citizens because of the unnecessary release of personal information.”
If FAA implements the changes, AOPA warns, then many aircraft owners will hide their identity through layers of limited liability corporations, shadow leasing firms or other techniques. “All aircraft operating over the U.S. are monitored by agencies whose primary responsibility is the protection and defense of the nation,” AOPA says. “While the proposed changes to the BARR program will not impact their ability to see the movement of these aircraft, it will greatly complicate, if not completely eliminate their ability to accurately piece together the information that is needed for them to accomplish their jobs.” Homeland Security and Defense department individuals have expressed similar concerns, AOPA adds.
The standards for continued participation in BARR are unreasonable, contends the National Air Transportation Association. Noting FAA does not detail how it would determine a verifiable threat, NATA says, “It is of great concernÉthat the FAA intends to establish itself as an authority on whether threats against an individual are serious. The standards for blocking eligibility that the FAA is establishing are far too restrictive and subjective for effective and fair implementation.”
Further, the notice overlooks the impact of the proposal on Part 135 operators that elect to participate in BARR, NATA says. Some members participate to prevent unwanted tracking of their clientele, including heads of state, members of Congress and celebrities, the association notes. “Under the proposed modifications, it is difficult to conceive that there are any circumstances where an aircraft operated by a Part 135 air carrier could meet the ‘certified security concern’ standard because these security-sensitive persons do not own the aircraft in question.”
A number of individuals and companies also weighed in on the proposed changes. “Broadcasting our corporate travel plans to the general public would represent a considerable decrease in the security of our operation, and most importantly, the personal safety our passengers,” says Procter & Gamble Company. “We’ve experienced security threats before, and the privacy that the BARR program currently offers has allowed us to focus our security resources on other areas.”
With real-time access to flight information, an individual could easily determine the whereabouts of airplanes and identify patterns in aircraft movement. “It doesn’t take much of an imagination to envision ways a motivated individual, organization or business competitor could take advantage of that data to cause havoc,” the company adds.
Source: AVIATION WEEK