Aviation groups will undoubtedly turn up the heat in the political arena now that the Department of Transportation has gone ahead with plans to dismantle a system that allows private aircraft owners to block online access to services that track aircraft movements. On Friday, the DOT announced its intention to eliminate the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, which is used by about 5 percent of aircraft owners to keep others from logging on to flight tracking websites to see who's flying where at any given time. Most of the sites will give a history of flight activity, too. The FAA's new rule will only allow N-numbers to be blocked if the aircraft owner is able to convince the FAA that allowing the public to track their aircraft will create a security risk. However, BARR's future is also part of the deliberations on a new FAA reauthorization bill that is now at the conference stage and its supporters are working the hallways trying to get a law that will trump the DOT rule. Meanwhile, BARR proponents called the new measure a "paparazzi protection rule" and clashed with DOT over whose rights should be protected.
National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen issued a statement saying he was "outraged" by the enactment of the rule (which takes effect 60 days from its publishing in the Federal Register), saying it violates aircraft owners' rights to privacy. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the move fits with the current administration's transparency policies. "This action is in keeping with the Obama administration's commitment to transparency in government," LaHood said. "Both general aviation and commercial aircraft use the public airspace and air traffic control facilities, and the public has a right to information about their activities." But Bolen said it's at odds with the Obama administration's privacy goals. "What is most puzzling about this rule is that the Obama administration has pledged to increase privacy protections, not diminish them," Bolen said. "But here, government officials have chosen to sidestep the original intention of the U.S. Congress, the voices of thousands of citizens and companies, and a basic responsibility to safeguard the right to privacy in favor of a rule to invade the privacy and security of passengers in order to cater to tabloid special interests and others with suspect motives. When it comes to privacy rights, this is not the kind of change that the American people want."