Report Reveals Travels Of "Blocked" Aircraft
ProPublica, the news organization that won a court case in February to force the FAA to release aircraft tracking information previously kept secret, has released the results of its investigation in a story published on its own Web site and on the front page of Friday's USA Today. ProPublica said the aircraft operators who requested secrecy could do so for any reason, and the system could be used by corporations and government agencies to avoid scrutiny and bad publicity. "The owners don't have to meet any test to keep their flights secret," says the article. "They merely submit a request to the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group that lobbied to set up the program on the grounds that secrecy is justified to protect business deals and the security of executives." ProPublica said its investigation showed that a televangelist had flown his "tax-exempt jet" to Maui, and several "owners of newspapers that have fought for access to public records" also had corporate jets in the program. Among those media companies is Gannett, which owns USA Today.
Dan Hubbard, spokesman for NBAA, said competitive concerns, as well as security, drive the need for the system, called the Block Aircraft Registration Request program, or BARR. Aircraft owners submit their requests to NBAA, which then forwards the information to either the FAA or directly to flight-tracking Web sites, such as FlightAware. In February, a district court in Washington, D.C., ruled there was no reason the FAA should not release the BARR data in response to ProPublica's request under the Freedom of Information Act. NBAA had asked the court to block the release, citing security concerns. The court decision does not permit the disclosure of real-time flight data, historical data, or operator names. However, the tail numbers are released. Also, the FOIA ruling does not apply to information given directly by NBAA to the flight-tracking Web sites.