Aug 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Congress may let jet owners like Elon Musk block flight info

Illustration of a hand wiping away a dotted line coming out of a private jet flying off screen.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Elon Musk and other private jet owners may soon be able to stop the public from learning about their flights, thanks to the FAA reauthorization bill recently passed by the House.

Why it matters: Such information has proven useful to journalists and other researchers — but some plane owners, including Musk, have argued that it can pose a security risk.

The big picture: Private plane information has long been public record.

  • But, until the relatively recent advent of online flight trackers, it was cumbersome for most people to learn who owned what plane or where it had flown.
  • The FAA already has some options for private plane owners who want to block flight information from being shared with trackers. Many owners also use LLCs and other corporate ownership structures to shield their identities.

Details: A provision tucked inside the FAA reauthorization bill would require the agency to establish a process to let jet owners request to keep their planes' registration numbers, and other information, private.

  • The five-year FAA reauthorization 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.

What they're saying: "There has long been bipartisan support for protecting everyone's fundamental right to privacy...given the very significant potential threats to security posed by real-time broadcast of citizens' movements," Dan Hubbard, a spokesperson for the National Business Aviation Association told Axios.

  • "An understanding that you shouldn't have to surrender basic security protections because you board an airplane is reflected in this legislation, as it has repeatedly been reflected in previous bills."

Flashback: Musk last year threatened to sue the creator of a Twitter account that tracked his private jet's activities, and permanently suspended the account.

Zoom out: Musk is far from alone in his attempts to prevent his flight activity from being tracked.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from the National Business Aviation Association.

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