Ongoing Privacy Concerns with Implementation of ADS-B — Originally published in BusinessAir Magazine, July 2019, Volume 29, No. 7.

ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast. By January 1, 2020, the majority of aircraft operating within the United States will be required to have ADS-B Out capabilities – and for aircraft registered internationally, some compliance deadlines are even sooner. Aircraft lacking ADS-B Out capabilities after that date will be effectively grounded or severely limited in where and how they can fly – perhaps for months!

The ADS-B Out requirements are just one element of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which is being implemented in phases between 2012 and 2025. The purpose of NextGen is to transform America’s antiquated air traffic control (ATC) system from a radar-based system to a satellite based system.

What is ADS-B Out? ADS-B is technology that uses an airplane’s onboard global positioning system (GPS) to transmit the current position, speed, flight number and, most importantly, whether the airplane is climbing, descending or turning. The current radar-based system is not able to recognize and process information regarding climb, descent or turns. The transmitted information is sent to ATC and other aircraft. The current radar system sends updates once every two to twelve seconds. However, aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out capabilities transmit data every second. So, not only do the transmitted updates contain more information, including data on climb, descent and turns, but the updates also take place far more frequently.

Upgrading the system on an aircraft to incorporate ADS-B Out capabilities allows both ATC and pilots of other aircraft with ADS-B In to see the aircraft nearest to them with a graphical representation. While Traffic Alert and Collison Avoidance Systems (TCAS) currently provide some of this information, the additional data generated by ADS-B Out will make the information far more accurate.

With ADS-B Out equipped aircraft broadcasting not just their flight plans but their current position, speed, and flight number, aircraft can be tracked much easier. While there are many advantages to ADS-B Out, using this newly available information means it is easier for the world to know who is flying where.

There are two important steps that can be taken in order to minimize the public disclosure of aircraft locations:

1. Ownership structure. Using options such as a finance lease, owner trust or sole purpose entity to hold title could help preserve anonymity if structured properly.

2. Registration Number Blocking. In 2013 the FAA issued a notice that allows owners and operators to limit the display of aircraft situation display to industry (ASDI) data. Owners and operators can request the blocking of the flight tracking information. While this does not include data now available because of ADS-B, it can help. The process for opting out of this flight data feed can be found here:

https://www.aerlex.com/protecting-your-privacy

While many associations, including National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) have been vocal about the privacy concerns linked to ADS-B data, a solution is not known or planned for the immediate future. As a result, planning and implementing a favorable ownership structure at the time an aircraft is purchased has become more important, as well as taking advantage of registration number blocking made available by the FAA.

Please contact Amanda Applegate at 310-392-5200 or aapplegate@aerlex.com.