As the FAA continues its transition to its NextGen air traffic management system, NBAA continues to raise concerns that Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) flight tracking technology – a cornerstone of NextGen – does not include needed protections for operators’ privacy, security and business competitiveness.
I recently raised these concerns while attending a NextGen Advisory Committee meeting to discuss policy issues pertaining to the modernization of the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system.
As readers of Twin & Turbine already know, ADS-B Out transmits an unencrypted, real-time signal that includes the aircraft’s Mode S transponder code, its call sign, aircraft type, position and airspeed, as determined by the aircraft’s own GPS-based avionics. In addition to providing a clearer and more accurate picture of flight operations to ATC, flight crews may also utilize this information to enhance their own situational awareness.
To be clear, NBAA’s concern about ADS-B in this specific area does not mean that NBAA opposes ADS-B; in fact, NBAA participates in all the major government-industry advisory groups involved in ADS-B development, because we know this new technology will offer significant efficiency gains that will benefit business aircraft operators.
However, we are greatly concerned that anyone with the right equipment can capture that real-time data and potentially use it for nefarious purposes. That could include tracking of a company’s flight operations by competitors trying to deduce their next business moves, or by individuals with more ominous intentions.
This isn’t the first time that NBAA has fought to protect the security, privacy and business competitiveness of aircraft operators by allowing them to opt out of being subjected to real-time broadcast of flight information. Four years ago, when the Department of Transportation wanted to impose restrictions on the ability of business aircraft operators to participate in the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, NBAA pursued efforts to enable operators to retain those safeguards. With the industry’s direct support, we prevailed.
As the BARR experience demonstrated, the need to protect the privacy and security of one’s real-time movements is well understood not only by the aviation industry, but also by organizations from across the political spectrum – from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Civil Liberties Union. Respected media outlets also recognized the importance of these misgivings, as did members of both parties in Congress, who eventually passed legislation requiring the FAA to provide an opt-out from real-time broadcast of flight data.
NBAA believes that people should not have to surrender their security or privacy just because they board a general aviation airplane. As we continue working with policymakers to bring attention to this matter, we may need to call upon others in business aviation to weigh in. If that time comes, I know we will be able to count on your support, as well.