The Federal Aviation Administration has made final its decision to remove a tail number tracking exemption now available to certain aircraft. The block aircraft registration request (BARR) programme, managed by the National Business Aviation Association for the FAA, allows requestors to have their registration numbers removed from publicly available flight tracking systems, an option that more than 3,000 operators now use for privacy, safety or competition reasons.

"This action is in keeping with the Obama administration's commitment to transparency in government," said US Department of Transportation administrator Ray LaHood. "Both general aviation and commercial aircraft use the public airspace and air traffic control facilities, and the public has a right to information about their activities." Only operators who can show a "verifiable threat", including death threats or kidnapping, will qualify for the blanking under the new interpretation of the rules, expected to be finalised this summer.

The decision follows a months-long comment period on the proposal, which had drawn heavy criticism, particularly from the NBAA. "We are outraged by the government's move," said NBAA chief Ed Bolen. "As we've said repeatedly, there can be no legitimate reason for a government agency to facilitate the monitoring of wholly private activity by anyone with an internet connection."

Bolen, who refers to the new interpretation as the "paparazzi protection rule", said the FAA's claim that those on board tracked aircraft can not be identified is "pure sophistry". He added: "With an aircraft tail number, anyone with a little initiative can quickly determine the travellers on an aircraft."

Source: Flight International