NBAA Challenges FAA Release Of Information On Business Jet Travel

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Generally, data about the movements of airplanes using the federal airspace system is open to the public, but owners of business aircraft can ask the FAA to block their tail numbers, citing security concerns and competitive considerations -- and now a federal court will decide if those requests should be open to the public. The FAA said recently that it would release the list, after a Freedom of Information request from a nonprofit journalism group, but the NBAA has challenged that decision. "The Blocked Aircraft Registry Request (BARR) Program was established over a decade ago," NBAA said in a statement. "NBAA has long supported the BARR program and believes the reasons for its creation remain relevant today, given that access to information about certain flights can be used to inappropriately impact the competitive landscape." NBAA spokesman Dan Hubbard told AVweb the organization wouldn't comment further since the matter is pending in court. ProPublica, the group seeking the release of the list, says some companies are using the system to avoid bad publicity about excessive use of their corporate jets.

Operators who want to block their tail numbers submit their requests directly to NBAA, which administers the BARR Database on behalf of the FAA. The requests don't require any specific justification, just a list of the N numbers for each aircraft that the owner would like to be blocked and a copy of the aircraft registration. NBAA argued in its complaint (PDF) to the court that the list is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because it was voluntarily submitted to the FAA and should be deemed confidential. Prior to agreeing to release the information to ProPublica, the FAA had reviewed an objection from NBAA and rejected it. "The NBAA list is not a trade secret, nor is it commercial or financial information within the meaning of the FOIA," wrote Carol Might, director of system operations litigation. When the FAA said it would release the list this week, NBAA filed the motion, which will prevent its release until the court rules. "We can't imagine why the list of companies that want to keep the movements of their aircraft a secret should itself be a secret," said Richard Tofel, general manager of ProPublica. "We've retained counsel to evaluate NBAA's lawsuit, and are considering our legal options."