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Point of Impact: The King Schools
Public Tracking of Private Aviation Flights: ‘Who Thinks This Is a Good Idea?'
March 21, 2011
For John and Martha King, flying is both a business and a shared passion.
Through their San Diego-based King Schools – the world's leading producer of aviation training videos and software – the couple has proudly helped to educate about half of the pilots who learn to fly in the United States. It's a record of achievement, which has earned them induction into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame.
In the aviation-training business for 36 years, the Kings fly their airplane around the country roughly every other week to give speeches, run seminars and attend conferences. A number of years ago, the couple requested that the tail number of their airplane be blocked from public view as part of the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program.
"We use the BARR program to protect our privacy and security," says John King. "A lot of the people we have trained over the years identify with us in one way or another. There is a fair amount of interest in our travels."
Martha King agrees. "John and I are fairly public figures at least in the aviation industry. From time to time over the years, we have had stalkers – me in particular – and have been sent vague, rambling, threatening letters."
In a written comment to a recent Federal Register notice that the government intends to severely curtail the BARR program, John King wrote that before signing up to have their airplane tail number blocked, his wife "also received emails from an individual listing everywhere we had flown recently."
"We are not comfortable with the broadcasting of our travel intentions to all parties regardless of their motivation," John King wrote. "Under the proposed revisions to the BARR program, we would not qualify to still participate."
As they talk about the proposed change, John King asks somewhat rhetorically "Who thinks this is a good idea?"
"Just because we have the technology to do something like track people's movements, including where they are going and when they will arrive, doesn't mean we should do it and make it public," he says. Both say they understand and appreciate why the government tracks all aircraft in flight, and gathers the data. But making it publicly available to anyone with an Internet connection is an "ill-advised public policy," in their view.
Martha King says she assumes advocates for this change "are making the argument that the airways are funded by taxpayers, so why are we allowing these people to opt out? But you could make the same argument about the public highways, and yet the government doesn't publish drivers' E-ZPass or GPS data. The government's plan singles out one mode of transportation, and that's general aviation."
John King says he and Martha believe many Americans would share their view that this proposal "doesn't consider all the consequences. It's very intrusive and violates our privacy as individuals."