Will Open-Source Flight Tracking Come To An End?

August 17, 2023


Due to a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill recently passed by the U.S House of Representatives, private jet owners may be able to stop their flight information from being posted online. The FAA’s new provision establishes a process to allow jet owners to keep their planes’ registration numbers, and other information, private. The five-year bill passed the House by an overwhelming 351-69 vote in July, and now must be reconciled with the Senate before heading to President Biden’s desk for his signature. 

  • Flight tracking is a hot button topic, with celebrities and high net worth individuals, such as Taylor Swift and Elon Musk, facing backlash for using private jets. 
  • Since we wrote about the security implications of this new trend last year, the interest in flight tracking continues to grow, with even college football fans monitoring universities’ private jets to determine which coaches might be hired. 

Several private jet owners have succeeded in blocking tracking attempts through the FAA’s free Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) program, which allows aircraft owners to redact their tail number from public tracking. The FAA’s Privacy ICAO aircraft address (PIA) program also allows high net-worth individuals to fly anonymously by using temporary aircraft registration numbers. 

  • However, determined trackers workaround both programs by using Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B), a system which broadcasts GPS location, altitude, and speed from an aircraft to ground stations and other planes. A free public website called ADS-B Exchange then collects the data and displays the locations.

The Risks Continue

Though we do not know if the bill will pass into law, or if it will be effective in masking private flight information, jet trackers continue to demonstrate determination in working around obfuscation methods. Given the significant potential threat which comes with extensive open-source flight data, it is important for high networth individuals and their teams to understand the continued security risks of jet tracking: 

  • In less dangerous, but still concerning, scenarios, it can lead to reputational damage or protests due to the reported use of carbon emissions. Dozens of journalists continue to criticize the impact private jets have on the environment. Increasing narratives due to the ongoing climate crisis will likely increase negative rhetoric and public perception of private jet owners. 
  • The real-time reporting of a high net worth individual’s time and location allows potential threat actors to learn the habits and routines of their targets with little-to-no effort. This can lead to in-person confrontations, theft, stalking, kidnapping, or worse. 

Although the FAA’s new provision is a promising next step to end the doxxing of private jet owners, trackers might be able to leverage other methods to continue their work. It is important to remain cautious and continue utilizing mitigation methods to ensure the safety of the principal, their family, and their staff. 

Concentric Can Help

Whether or not the FAA’s new provision is established, or if it is even effective at obfuscating the location of private jets, there are ways Concentric can aid high net worth individuals and their teams in mitigating these risks: 

  • Security OperationsAs Concentric’s Protective Operations Program Manager Mike Bachich assessed in our previous blog on this topic, there are numerous methods to manage the ongoing threats due to jet tracking. Whether it’s avoiding travel patterns which could expose risk or anticipating threats based on the travel itinerary, consider reaching out to Concentric’s Security Operations team.
  • Active MonitoringStand up active monitoring for immediate notifications of moderate- or high-risk mentions of tail numbers and principals’ travel that could escalate to threats. This service can include monitoring accounts automating flight updates and resulting engagement across surface and Deep & Dark Web (DDW) platforms.
  • Periodic ReportingConcentric’s Global Intelligence team provides daily, weekly, and monthly reporting to synthesize mentions discussing principals’ travel and monitor aircrafts’ online exposure and safety. Our assessments are based on extensive open source and DDW findings which will provide high net worth individuals and their teams with ongoing threat trends and recommendations to mitigate risks. 
  • Data Removal AssistanceUtilize a data removal service, such as Concentric’s Eclipse to remove the principal’s aircraft from certain tracking websites. 
  • Overflight Assessments: Concentric’s Global Intelligence Team’s Overflight Assessments analyze potential threats along flight paths or specific segments, including the best diversionary options in emergency situations.
  • Carbon OffsettingInvestigate options to offset carbon emissions from private jet usage, which can help combat environmental repercussions and reduce negative exposure. Concentric’s Green Security team analyzes tactics to measure, reduce, and offset emissions. 

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