As the lawsuit over the dismantling of the Block Aircraft Registration Request (Barr) program moves toward a hearing before a federal district court judge, NBAA and AOPA have established a legal defense fund for people and companies to help defray expenses the two associations incur.
The two groups said the court battle to preserve Barr, now expected in October, will require significant financial resources to reinstate the privacy that the program afforded. Although the FAA is the named defendant in the lawsuit to restore Barr, it was the Department of Transportation that announced in March that it would dramatically limit participation to those with a known and specific security threat.
With the advent of for-profit Internet flight-tracking services, in 2000 Congress authorized Barr to allow operators to block their flight operations from public view. But the DOT said it would dismantle the program on August 2 in the name of “government transparency.”
When the program officially ended, general aviation groups advised that operators under the Barr program “should assume their flights will appear on flight-tracking displays.”
On July 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a “motion for stay” filed by AOPA and NBAA to halt the DOT’s plan until the matter could be reviewed through the appellate process. The Experimental Aircraft Association filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting the motion for a stay (temporary halt).
On the day that the Barr was effectively dismantled, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) introduced S.1477-Barr Preservation Act of 2011. The legislation, which is cosponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), asserts that the federal government’s “dissemination to the public of information relating to noncommercial flight carried out by a private owner or operator of an aircraft, whether during or following the flight, does not serve a public policy objective.”
The bill further states that the government should not release to the public identifying information about noncommercial flights because the information “should be private and confidential.” S.1477 specifically prohibits the FAA from broadcasting identifying information about GA aircraft over the Internet against the wishes of aircraft owners and operators.
Until the U.S. Court of Appeals can hear the NBAA-AOPA lawsuit, NBAA is advising owners and operators to sign up for the FAA’s new Certified Security Concern list.
“We have been directing folks to the FAA to continue their participation in the Barr program if they believe that they qualify under the FAA’s new program, even though it does not extend to some of the concerns that our members used originally,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of safety, security and regulation.
“Folks have been sending in their requests and, now that the program is up and running, getting some rather quick response from the FAA about their inclusion in the program–in some cases the same day,” he said. “I guess it really depends on how many they get in a day or week. I’ll offer that the FAA has so far been responsive in turning around applications and requests for the program.”
Carr said NBAA is not tracking how many companies have made such requests, but judging by downloads from the NBAA Web site, it is about 1,000 companies. “We may get that information at some point, but to date we haven’t asked,” he said.
People and companies in the general aviation community have expressed opposition to the DOT action. In addition to aviation groups, major business organizations and privacy interests have also joined in opposition.
While some are questioning why NBAA and AOPA aren’t paying for the lawsuit, the two associations stress that both are investing “significant financial and staff resources” for the fight. They said the fund was created in response to requests from individuals and companies in GA who wanted additional ways to support the Barr program and the legal challenge to the DOT plan.
“Ultimately, this effort will require the collective resources of the entire general aviation community and anyone else interested in the right to privacy,” AOPA and NBAA said. The DOT’s plan also has been opposed by a bipartisan, bicameral group of congressional lawmakers. In July, 33 House members sent a letter asking DOT Secretary Ray LaHood to set aside his plans for the Barr. In June, 26 senators, including Roberts, sent a similar letter.
Earlier this year, the House passed legislation preserving the Barr as part of its version of a reauthorization package for the FAA. The House bill awaits reconciliation with the FAA reauthorization measure passed by the Senate.