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New program extends ADS-B privacy to 1090ES

Authorized call signs see changes, too

The FAA has announced a process that will allow operators of aircraft equipped with ADS-B Out using 1090 MHz Extended Squitter (Mode S transponder) technology to obtain real-time opt-out of ADS-B flight tracking.

ADS-B is changing the use of authorized call signs, like Compassion (CMF) for medical and other humanitarian missions. New call signs will be assigned to approved pilots, and will no longer be affiliated with an aircraft. Photo by Mike Collins.

U.S.-registered aircraft equipped with 1090ES ADS-B Out, using a third-party call sign, and flying in U.S. domestic airspace are eligible to participate in the Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) program. PIA allows aircraft operators to increase operational privacy by requesting an alternate, temporary International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aircraft address that is not associated with the owner in the Civil Aviation Registry.

The new service will be rolled out in two phases. In the first phase, a PIA application will be available online starting on or near January 1, 2020, and service will be operated, monitored, and maintained by the FAA. In the second phase, the service will be transitioned to one or more third-party service providers who will assume operational responsibility.

AOPA has long supported a privacy solution for 1090ES ADS-B and has been actively involved with the FAA, National Business Aviation Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and others in developing a solution. “Privacy is a key issue for general aviation pilots and, as nearly 85 percent of aircraft owners are equipping with 1090-MHz ADS-B systems, it is important this effort move forward,” said Rune Duke, senior director of airspace, air traffic, and security.

In the past, FAA programs enabled Part 91 operators to suppress their flight information from flight-tracking websites. However, those programs were based on air traffic control radar data feeds, which the FAA could control. Today with ADS-B, third parties can receive flight information directly, with no way for the FAA to filter the data. The PIA program maintains the integrity of flight data, and correlation to flight plans in the ATC system, while making it difficult for tracking sites or other third parties to match the data with a specific aircraft.

The PIA program is limited to domestic operations because other ICAO member states do not currently offer this capability. Aircraft equipped with Universal Access Transceiver (UAT) ADS-B avionics, including dual 1090/UAT-equipped aircraft, cannot participate in the PIA program, although they are able to continue using the UAT’s anonymous mode if they are not on an IFR flight plan or receiving ATC services.

The FAA said a third-party call sign is required for the operator to maintain privacy with ATC communications as well as his or her flight plan. Third-party call signs are available from third-party call sign providers, commercial services that have security agreements with the FAA. One of the larger providers is the website, with its Dot Com (DCM) call sign, currently available only for jet and turboprop aircraft.

“We’re pleased the FAA has responded positively to ADS-B privacy concerns of operators,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “Until now, the lack of a privacy solution has been a disincentive for some operators to equip with ADS-B. No one should have to surrender their privacy and security just because they board an airplane.”

“We support the FAA’s PIA program and we look forward to supporting its successful implementation,” Duke said. “We believe international harmonization efforts with countries like Canada should continue to facilitate a privacy framework for all of North America. Work must also continue on a long-term privacy solution for ADS-B and operator data.”

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins, AOPA technical editor and director of business development, died at age 59 on February 25, 2021. He was an integral part of the AOPA Media team for nearly 30 years, and held many key editorial roles at AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, and AOPA Online. He was a gifted writer, editor, photographer, audio storyteller, and videographer, and was an instrument-rated pilot and drone pilot.
Topics: ADS-B, FAA Information and Services

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