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Operator Privacy in the ADS-B Environment

Commercial flight tracking websites are a boon for aviation enthusiasts, but they also raise significant privacy concerns for business aviation. The FAA’s Limited Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) and Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) programs help shield aircraft operator information from prying eyes.

Replacing the former Block Aircraft Registry Request (BARR) program, LADD enables business aircraft owners and their designated representatives to submit requests to limit data shared by the FAA with individual third-party tracking providers.

“The FAA's Limited Aircraft Data Displayed program allows operators to essentially navigate in the NAS anonymously, without sharing their information with flight tracking services.”

Heidi Williams Senior Director, Air Traffic Services & Infrastructure, NBAA

“LADD allows operators to essentially navigate in the NAS (national airspace system) anonymously, without sharing their information with flight tracking services,” said Heidi Williams, NBAA senior director for air traffic services & infrastructure. “Operators may continue sharing aircraft data with individual vendors they utilize for their business, or they can block it directly at the source and keep that information from being shared with any commercial flight tracking provider.”

Although Williams noted that the FAA has “really stepped up to enhance security of those data-sharing agreements” in its transition from BARR to LADD, she cautioned that this does not prevent transmission of aircraft-identifying data via automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) to privately owned receivers used by an increasing number of flight tracking sites.

That’s where PIA comes in. “PIA consists of two parts designed to interrupt identifiable information shared by an aircraft’s Mode-S transponder,” explained Doug Carr, NBAA senior vice president of safety, security, sustainability and international operations. “The first allows the FAA to assign a non-published, six-digit ICAO hex code to that transponder that doesn’t translate back to any aircraft registry information in the FAA’s database.”

Under PIA, operators must also secure a third-party flight ID not tied to any data in the FAA registry, which will then be displayed in lieu of the aircraft’s tail number.

“In most cases, an aircraft operating under PIA will still show up on tracking sites as it will still be sharing information,” Carr added, “but the information displayed won’t connect to any ownership or operator data.”

The FAA established a 60-day baseline for operators to request a new ICAO hex code under PIA, although Williams noted that the agency can work directly with operators that believe their code has been compromised to shorten that time frame. “Events over the last few months have really highlighted the critical time element when your information has been compromised,” she said.

However, Carr cautioned it still may not be a quick process. “Every aircraft and avionics suite is different and will have some uniqueness in getting in to change the code,” he said. “Also, each code change is considered a maintenance item and there will need to be logbook entries and appropriate personnel involved.”

For the moment, PIA also applies only to FAA-controlled domestic airspace; flights operating along oceanic routes, even near the U.S. coast, are not shielded at this time. However, the FAA is working with ICAO to coordinate expansion of the PIA program.

NBAA recommends operators use both LADD and PIA to maximize security.

Review NBAA’s flight privacy resources at nbaa.org/privacy.

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Podcast: Maintaining Operator Privacy in the ADS-B Environment

The deployment of ADS-B has created challenges for aircraft operators concerned about their privacy, but the Limited Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) and Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) programs can help shield aircraft and operator data from prying eyes on the Internet.
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