Privacy in an ADS-B Era

An NBAA panel on aircraft and passenger privacy issues included (from left): Heidi Williams of the NBAA, Jamal Wilson (FAA), Jens Henning (GAMA) and Doug Carr (NBAA).

Credit: James Albright/ShowNews

An NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) panel Oct. 19 addressed an issue of growing concern in business aviation: The battle between the need for privacy in the industry and the public’s right to know.

Business aviation has a different view about the privacy of its aircraft and passengers than does the public at large, because we recognize privacy as being closely linked to security.  Over the last several decades, the battle seemed to go in our favor—until the advent of automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast “Out” (ADS-B Out). 

The panel, “Privacy in an ADS-B Era,” featured an expert panel to outline the issue and suggest ways to mitigate what we view as the threat. The panel included Jamal Wilson of the FAA, Jens Hennig from General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and Heidi Williams and Doug Carr from the NBAA.

Wilson quickly summarized why the problem has changed since ADS-B. Flight tracking used to be based on interrogative methods, such as Mode S transponders. That meant we knew who was asking for the information. Mitigation was relatively easier than today, where tracking is done by receiving the ADS-B automatic broadcast.

It is clear that the safety and efficiency benefits provided by ADS-B means it will not go away—air traffic control must know precisely where you are at all times. But that means anyone who can read the data on the public airwaves will have that same information. So what can we do about this? The panel outlined a four- step plan.

First, the aircraft registration should be held by a trust or LLC to place a layer of separation between the principle owner and the name on the certificate of registration, which is a matter of public record.

Second, the aircraft should participate in the Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) program.  This is easily done from the FAA’s website at

Third, the operator should use a third-party call sign, which is available from various vendors, such as ForeFlight and

Fourth, and perhaps most important, operators should take steps to change the 24-bit code associated with their registration through the FAA’s Privacy ICAO Aircraft Address (PIA) program.  The FAA can assign you an alternate 24-bit code to fool flight trackers into seeing a different registration number.

The program is available at Make sure to check with your mechanics to see how much of an ordeal making this change is. With some aircraft, it can be as simple as entering the new number through a cockpit display.  With others, it can involve pulling apart the cockpit and “restrapping” the transponder or other components, followed by lengthy checks

These steps will effectively increase the difficulty of tracking your aircraft using electronic means, but the panel stressed that the plan is not a “silver bullet.” There are ways to work around all available electronic precautions, which could be as simple as someone watching your airport and observing who boards your aircraft.

It continues to be critical that you take all available precautions. To name just a few: Do not broadcast passenger names on the radio, safeguard printed materials, use only trusted ground transportation and pick airports and fixed-base operators where your visibility can be minimized.

James Albright

James is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot with time in the T-37B, T-38A, KC-135A, EC-135J (Boeing 707), E-4B (Boeing 747) and C-20A/B/C (Gulfstream III…