July 1, 2015

A few days before welcoming passengers on board your company’s aircraft for a business trip to Europe, you start receiving emails from catering companies asking you to use their services when you get to Copenhagen, or at your next stop in Milan. “How do these companies know we are going to Europe?,” you may ask.

This is a common scenario for U.S.-registered business aircraft, said Greg Kulis, CAM, an international business jet captain and former chairman of NBAA’s Security Council. Flight plan data for European flights is available on a subscription basis from Eurocontrol’s Network Manager Operations Center (NMOC), formerly known as the Central Flow Management Unit. FBOs, catering companies and other businesses that service business aircraft use it to find customers.

While the information available from NMOC is not real-time aircraft-tracking data, the fact that others might know when you are expected to arrive and depart from European airports is a legitimate security concern. Advance flight plans also are available in many parts of Asia.

Kulis said there are a number of steps operators can take to keep their aircraft movements more secure:

  • Avoid the use of an N-number that points people directly to your company.
  • Consider registering the aircraft in the name of a subsidiary.
  • Use a different address from that of the parent company.
  • Ask the FBO and your international flight planner not to release your information to service providers.

Kulis also cautioned that operators should “not let your security concerns stop when the aircraft arrives” at the airport. Ground transportation providers also should be vetted.

Block Aircraft Registration Request

One of the most basic ways to keep real-time business aircraft travel information secure in the U.S. is signing up for the FAA’s Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. The agency makes its real-time aircraft situation display to industry (ASDI) data feed available to operators so they can track the location of their aircraft. But those authorized to receive the ASDI feed must sign an agreement they will block the identity of operators that have enrolled in BARR.

Many companies providing flight-tracking services use multiple data sources and not just FAA’s ASDI feed. But Kulis said nearly all of the firms that work with business aircraft operators will not provide real-time tracking data for any aircraft whose operator has requested registration blocking protection, no matter what the source of that flight data.

Of course, while the BARR can be a helpful real-time security tool, the ability of continually emerging technologies to acquire flight-related data is an ongoing concern.

For example, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which is one of the key elements of FAA’s Next Generation ATC initiative, provides another tool to those who want to track aircraft movements in real time. Because ADS-B signals are transmitted by the aircraft itself – and are not part of the ASDI feed – they can be tracked by nearly anyone with Internet access or a smart phone with the right “app.”

In testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in May, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen noted that ADS-B “does not currently include needed protections for operators’ privacy and security. While NBAA has long promoted the development of ADS-B, we have consistently pointed out that, in transitioning to satellite-based navigation and surveillance, we must ensure that it makes accommodations for privacy.”

In written testimony, Bolen told the committee, “When it comes to ADS-B, we continue to believe that people should not have to surrender their privacy and security just because they travel on a general aviation aircraft. This committee was integral in protecting these rights previously, and we respectfully request that these privacy protections be addressed in the pending 2015 FAA Reauthorization bill as well.” Read more about Bolen’s written testimony to the committee.

Read more about ASDI.