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Online Extra

Answers to Common Questions About Flight Tracking Data and Availability

The reinstatement of the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program means that all aircraft owners and operators again have the ability to “opt out” from having their flight information publicly broadcast on the Internet. For many operators, the government challenge to the BARR program raised additional questions about flight tracking. The following questions and answers offer a glimpse into the issues raised by NBAA Members:

What is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aircraft Situation Display to Industry (ASDI)?

The ASDI data feed was created by FAA in 1992, and is a graphic display of all aircraft operating on IFR flight plans in U.S. airspace. Data on any aircraft on an IFR flight plan, including foreign-registered aircraft or operations using a call sign, is contained in the ASDI feed. The data is used for FAA air traffic management purposes and is also made available to the Department of Defense and approved academic institutions and industry vendors.

What type of information is contained in the ASDI data feed?

The majority of data elements in the ASDI feed enable FAA systems to accurately display the position of an aircraft. Examples of specific elements include: aircraft identification (flight or tail number); aircraft type and equipment information; transponder beacon code; departure and arrival point; latitude and longitude; and altitude and heading.

Who are the academic institutions and industry vendors, and what type of information do they receive?

The FAA allows flight tracking providers, certain educational institutions and government agencies to access the ASDI data feed. Non-governmental users must sign a memorandum of understanding with the FAA governing their use of data and requiring compliance with certain provisions, such as the ability for BARR program participants to opt out of having their flight information displayed. The FAA can audit vendors and suspend ASDI access for those that do not comply with the memorandum of understanding.

Can flight tracking information be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

Yes, over the past few years the FAA has released historic flight-tracking information to various media outlets through FOIA requests. The BARR program only allows operators to opt out from having real time flight tracking information publicly displayed. Once the aircraft lands, BARR protections are no longer in place and historic details of the flight are subject to FOIA requests. Even historic information on flights conducted by aircraft blocked at the more restrictive “FAA level” is subject to FOIA requests. There are very specific FOIA exemptions that prevent the government from releasing commercial business information or trade secrets, and the FAA has determined that none of those apply to historic flight-tracking data.

Do Mode S transponders and ADS-B equipment transmit data that can be used to track aircraft?

Yes, both Mode S transponders and ADS-B equipment installed on aircraft transmit data that can be used to identify the location of an aircraft. For example, unlike Mode C transponders, which only transmit a random beacon code, Mode S transponders display a “Flight ID” that can be used to identify the tail number and registration information for an aircraft. Operators should be aware that certain vendors offer equipment and services to track aircraft using this information.



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