Poll: Should Publicizing Aircraft Tracks Be Illegal?

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Unfortunately, the system was never designed to offer privacy, and to change the ICAO address in most transponders is a non-trivial process. Even when the operator gets a “privacy ICAO address”, dedicated snoops visually identifying an arrival or departure of the target aircraft can receive the squawked privacy address, correlate that with the callsign and be back in business.

  2. Tracks are not the issue.
    Aircraft registration and pilot certificate/medical info is PI and should not be public. There are laws that protect that stuff everywhere else except in the FAA.

    • You’re referring to “PII” – not PI. You can already block the distribution of that information in the FAA system. Not a problem.

      My take on this is if you’re in the public system – being paid for by public moneys – the information ought to be available to the public. I do not believe this realistically poses any “security compromise” to anyone.

      The number of people this might effect is so small as to render it an inappropriate function of government to address. Leave it like it is and let those folks deal with it. They can always quit doing what they’re doing and leave the public eye. In 6 months, they could go anywhere without anyone giving a hoot. If you’re financial value revolves around being a “Cultural Icon” either get used to it and deal with the down sides too – or stop and get a real job. I’m sick and tired of people putting themselves somewhere and then complaining about where they are.

  3. It made sense in 1927 to have pilot’s names and home addresses attached to their N-numbers and publicly searchable in a period of time when N-number searches had to be mailed in to the FAA. That was before the Internet. As per usual *cough* leaded avgas *cough* the FAA is about 30 years late in even acknowledging that there is an issue. It will take another 20 years, several failed FAA committees, and ultimately a rider in an Armed Services appropriations bill to get anything done.

  4. Having work this particular privacy issue for 17 years at one of the major aviation associations, I will tell you I know, firsthand, of actual security threats to individuals using general aviation aircraft – and none of them were celebrities. While they may not be in the thousands, they legitimately exist. Just as when I’m driving my car, I would prefer not to have somebody able to track me in real time, or even near real time.

    • Whether you like it or not, if you’re driving a newer vehicle, you are being tracked. The systems are so integrated into the vehicle’s operation, trying to disable them would likely create more problems than they solve. From a Drone report article back in 2021:

      Is My Car Being Tracked?

      If your vehicle was manufactured after 2010, then YES, your vehicle most likely uses some form of cellular and/or GPS connectivity to track your vehicle. These technologies benefit both you, the driver, and your vehicle manufacturer.
      For you, it means an up-to-date navigation and infotainment experience. For your vehicle manufacturer, it means being able to collect aggregated and anonymized data about how their vehicles, at a macro-level, are being used/driven.

      • But that data is not publicly available. You can’t look up someone’s vehicle by license plate number and see their location with the click of a few buttons.

  5. I support a right to opt out of tracking, but as John K. states, we can’t. With NextGen and even before that. All 1090ES ADSB out transponders identify the aircraft. Any ADSB receiver and a cheap computer ($35) can be programmed to receive and retransmit to an internet clearinghouse. Next, people can see the aircraft on a ramp with its N number and can monitor ATC frequencies for its movement, and follow it anywhere using ATClive or similar.

    Making the assigned ADSB hex code private (no N-number translation), would help, but it would not take much effort to sit at an airport of interest, listen to ATC radio and observe N numbers and match to ADSB hex codes and pretty soon a private database is available and tracking will go on.

  6. I wrestled with my selection to the pole options for a few minutes. My initial thought was it’s public information and should be available. Then I got to thinking about it and we do have laws that prevent stalking and for good reasons. If I could think of a good reason for anybody to know what somebody else is doing without their permission I might reconsider. Would any of us think it is acceptable to allow GPS trackers stuck under our cars?

  7. If this is at all a security concern, then just fly on an airline. Of course all airline flights are also public information but like both private aircraft and airlines, the actual passenger names are not public.

  8. If there’s one argument you’ll loose in aviation. That is hiding the Hex-Code from the gov’ment. They are absolutely determined to ‘use tax’ each and everyone of us ‘RICH’ aircraft owners.

    Several news articles have showed up lately about taxing electric vehicle owners for road maintenance. Don’t be surprised when they tell you the tracking/tax system is already built into the vehicles. As above commenters have already stated.

    From Ben Franklin quote library… Two things for sure in life….

  9. I will vote for privacy every time. The general public does not have the need to know where Taylor Swift (or anyone else) is in real time. After all, that is where this story comes from.
    Yes I have “location” turned off in my phone and the NAV in my car is disabled.
    No I am not a swifty.

  10. What if access to that information required a login tied to PII and 2FA, making every viewer and every viewer’s session known to the involved entities (agencies and owners/operators). A registration/renewal fee for access (did someone say tax?) could off-set costs.