Court Opens Blocked N Numbers
A federal court has ruled that the FAA must release aircraft registration information previously kept secret in a special program if it receives a Freedom of Information request. For about 10 years, private aircraft operators have been able to have their N numbers "blocked" from outside scrutiny under the National Business Aviation Association's Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. In late 2008, a non-profit investigative journalism Web site called ProPublica submitted an FOIA request to the FAA to release the list of BARR participants, claiming the owners of the aircraft were using the program to prevent public scrutiny of their use of the aircraft. The FOIA request came shortly after the Big Three automakers made headlines by using corporate aircraft to travel to Washington to ask for federal bailouts. NBAA went to court to block the release of the information citing security concerns, but on Friday a D.C. district court ruled the FOIA requests must be honored; it did not extend the order to include real-time requests for information on aircraft.
That the information can only be released through the formal FOIA process is of some solace to NBAA but it regards the ruling as a mistake. "NBAA has long believed that security and other imperatives make it absolutely essential to protect our Members' aircraft and flight information from being made widely available, which is why we created the BARR program," said Bob Lamond, NBAA Director, Air Traffic Services and Infrastructure. "Unfortunately, and in spite of our work to uphold the BARR program through every legal avenue available, the court has ruled the above information cannot remain permanently sealed." NBAA says it doesn't know what ProPublica plans to do with the information but it's ready to help members in a media relations role if they're contacted about their aircraft use.