By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
In a page-one story published over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported on the use of private jets as documented by FAA flight records obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests. The FAA released data from 2007 through 2010, including details of privately operated flights that are protected under the BARR program (Blocked Aircraft Registration Request). Once reporters had aircraft registration numbers, they identified owners via the FAA's online database. About one-third of the private-jet trips were to resort destinations such as Aspen and Palm Beach, the Journal said. The National Business Aviation Association wrote in a letter to the Journal that companies need to block their flight data for competitive and security reasons.
The Journal published all of the FAA data online, listing the details of jet trips taken by celebrities such as John Travolta, Oprah Winfrey, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The FAA has recently proposed to limit the BARR program to those operators who claim a "valid security concern." In his letter to the Journal, NBAA President Ed Bolen wrote: "What is most startling about the proposed rollback of these privacy rights is that no one has even identified the interest -- other than prurient voyeurism -- that the invasion of privacy advances. What's next? Under the DOT's logic, the government could next release the records on drivers' E-Z pass use on highways, passenger manifests for airline flights, individuals' cell-phone calling traffic, and consumers' credit card use." NBAA and other aviation advocacy groups are lobbying Congress to preserve the BARR program in its present form. The House version of the pending FAA reauthorization bill includes a measure that would preserve BARR, but it still needs to be reconciled with the Senate version, which lacks the BARR provision, before it can become law.