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ADS-B Privacy - What You Need to Know

ADS-B Privacy - What You Need to Know

U.S. general aviation operators have long taken advantage of being able to keep their aircraft identity from being displayed over public data systems, like flight tracking websites using the FAA’s Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. This program, now called Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD), prevents aircraft transponder data that is received by FAA surveillance radar from being transmitted to the public on the FAA’s Aircraft Situation Display to Industry (ASDI) feed.

Privacy Issue with ADS-B

With the mandatory use of 1090 MHz automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) Out in U.S. domestic airspace, aircraft identification privacy became a concern once again. ADS-B Out operates by transmitting the aircraft's unique ICAO address, making identification by any individual with an ADS-B receiver or flight tracking software possible as seen in the example in Figure 1. Real-time tracking of the geographic location of a specific aircraft is also made possible. The FAA acknowledged the desire for operators to limit the availability of real-time ADS-B position and identification information for a specific aircraft. To address operator concerns, the FAA initiated the Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) program to improve the privacy of eligible aircraft. This PIA is programmed into the aircraft transponder in place of the aircraft’s permanently assigned ICAO address, masking the aircraft registration to public tracking sites.

Figure 1 – Example of Flight Tracking Software

What Does It Take To Register?

The FAA’s PIA program is predicated on a few requirements for an aircraft to be eligible. The aircraft must be U.S. registered and 1090 MHz ADS-B equipped. The operator must also use a third-party call sign for flight plan filing from a provider that has FAA registered call signs, such as ForeFlight or FltPlan.com.

There are multiple steps required for an operator to register and have a PIA issued. These include obtaining a Public ADS-B Performance Report (PAPR) to verify there are no issues with the aircraft ADS-B system. Operators can download the application and full instructions from the FAA ADS-B Privacy site.

The Downside

There are several limitations to the PIA Program that may detract operators from using it. First, the Privacy ICAO Address can only be used within U.S. airspace. An operator would not be able to use it for any flights departing or coming into the U.S.; including offshore routes to the Caribbean or across the Gulf of Mexico. Changing the PIA back to the permanent assigned ICAO address is a maintenance function and, in some platforms, requires re-programming the Aircraft Personality Module (APM). In other words, it is not a change that is made “on the fly”. If the aircraft is using an assigned PIA, it will prevent them from logging on and using Domestic Enroute CPDLC. ARINC and SITA stations will not recognize the temporary ICAO address as registered for use of VDL-M2. An operator may have to switch to a new flight plan provider to obtain the required call sign. With these limitations, the PIA program may not be a practical option for all operators. 

Derek Fiedler supports RNP, Datalink, and Forge Flight Services for Honeywell Flight Technical Services. He can be reached via email at Derek.Fiedler@Honeywell.com