Kevin Singh, CEO of Icarus Jet, discusses one of the main concerns impacting the business aviation industry today: the feasibility to provide utmost confidentiality to its passengers is getting harder every day due to public-access tracking systems.
Private aviation has been a hot discussion topic due to its environmental impact and, most recently, potential privacy issues. Does Elon Musk’s case ring a bell? I’m sure it does, as the possibility to track tail numbers and learn about the movements of private jet travelers worldwide is common practice these days. Even SpaceX has gotten involved in this by asking the FAA to block the tracking of Musk’s private jet a few years ago. Yes, that’s the size of this issue…
Passengers opt to use private aviation for many reasons, with flexibility, comfort, and time efficiency topping the list. Yet, there is a key trait that drives demand while also being expected by all global customers: privacy. Well, it’s called private aviation for a reason. That attribute has been tested for the past months after public aircraft tracking hit the mainstream media. Now, high-profile individuals, such as celebrities, politicians, business executives, and other prominent figures who often utilize private jets for travel can be tracked in the sky.
These customers have taken notice of the recent developments, the latest being the case of Bernard Arnault, the billionaire CEO of LVMH, who recently sold the company’s private jet after thousands of people started tracking the plane on social media. On the same line, with the industry also immersed in environmental turmoil, the possibility to track jets is also being used to determine the travel emissions on private jets by the wealthiest individuals and families. It’s the case of Climate Jets – with the mission “to reveal the disparity between the carbon emissions of the ultra-rich and average Americans.”
At Icarus Jet, a private jet provider based in Dallas, we believe that privacy is the most immediate issue affecting the industry today because privacy is what every customer seeks when chartering a private flight. By engaging with our passengers and private jet owners (we also have a trip support business line), that is hands down their main concern today: just how easy it is to track tail numbers.
Some flight tracking websites, such as FlightAware, FlightRadar24, RadarBox, or the enthusiast community-based ADS-B Exchange, provide real-time tracking of flights, including private jets. The latter relies on a community of volunteers that have worldwide tracking equipment, working as an open-source platform. All these websites gather data from various sources, including air traffic control, ADS-B (more on this term later), and other publicly available information. The sheer availability of this data, just one click or search away in Google, should be worrisome for the entire industry.
Well, how can the industry respond? Is there a feasible solution? There is, and it may involve regulators, government authorities, and industry-wide collaboration. While the FAA provides a service called Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) that reduces the availability of information, some internet tracking services don’t use LADD because they don’t rely on FAA data; they obtain it directly from the aircraft by using an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) – a transmitter that sends a distinctive code that is linked to the aircraft while enabling to track it on publicly available devices.
While FAA and NBAA have renewed their effort to find ways within the FAA to protect the privacy of flight information, a one-stop solution is still not available for operators and private jet owners. Most importantly, balancing privacy concerns with the need for transparency and safety in private jet tracking is still very much in the early stages of the discussion.
Potential private jet flight tracking solutions
I always have believed that at any industry and level of discussion, education, and awareness are key. Raising awareness among private jet passengers, operators, and the public about the benefits, challenges, and privacy considerations of private jet tracking should be the first step in the process for any leading actor in the industry, and not finding out about this issue through the press, as has been the case in the past year or so.
Collaboration is another key element for sustained success in finding solutions. Industry stakeholders, including private jet operators, and regulatory bodies, should collaborate to establish standardized privacy guidelines and best practices. These guidelines can ensure consistency in privacy protection while maintaining a reasonable level of tracking for safety and operational needs.
Clear privacy policies at domestic and international levels should also be paramount – private jet operators and authorities should have transparent and comprehensive privacy policies in place. These policies should clearly outline how the tracking data is collected, stored, used, and shared. Users should have access to these policies and be informed of their rights and options regarding their flight information.
Furthermore, along the lines of privacy policies, would it be too much to ask to have a consent-based tracking policy? I believe operators and owners should have control over whether their flight information is publicly accessible or shared with specific entities. Implementing opt-in mechanisms will allow individuals to decide if they want their flights to be tracked and who should have access to the data.
Last but not least, implementing enhanced data security measures to protect private jet tracking information from unauthorized access or potential misuse is the building block of all the previously proposed solutions. Encryption, secure data transmission protocols, and strict access controls can help safeguard the data and maintain confidentiality, and perhaps AI and its technological advances can also have a role to play in this realm.
It is essential to find a delicate balance that respects privacy concerns while meeting safety, security, and operational requirements. Reaching this balance requires ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and the adoption of appropriate technological and policy measures within the private jet industry.
About the Author
Pilot, president, and founder of Icarus Jet, a leading global trip support and aircraft management company, Kevin Singh has flown globally as a chief pilot and captain on private jets like the Hawker 800-A and 850 XP, and the Challenger 600 series and Global 6000.