A legal complaint filed by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has prompted the US Federal Aviation Administration to delay its plan to release a list of aircraft owners who requested their tail numbers be blocked from real-time public tracking programmes such as FlightAware.com.

"As a result of the NBAA's filing, the government has agreed not to release the information until a ruling can be made on whether a permanent injunction would be appropriate," says the NBAA. "That ruling is expected in September."

ProPublica, a non-profit investigative reporting organisation headed by former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger, had filed a Freedom of Information Act request in December to obtain a list of all companies that have applied to have their tail numbers blocked from FAA data being used in the tracking programmes since 2000.

Tracking programmes provide a real-time view of the departure, en route and destination phases of flights carried out under instrument flight plans.

According to its website, ProPublica decided to file for the list after carmaker General Motors applied to have its tail numbers blocked following the congressional chiding its chief executive endured after taking the company's private jet to Washington to ask for government aid.

NBAA, administrator of the Block Aircraft Registration Request programme on behalf of the FAA, says the service allows aircraft owners or operators "with commercial privacy or security-related commercial concerns" to obtain an exemption to block the data.

"This prevents competitors and others from monitoring on a real-time basis the current location of company planes participating in the BARR service," writes NBAA in the "reverse Freedom of Information Act" action filed 15 June.

The FAA had initially determined on 1 June that the NBAA list was not "voluntarily supplied commercial information", hence not protected from release under the Act. The agency had planned to disclose the data - names, addresses and tail numbers of blocked aircraft - to PrePublica in the middle of this month.

NBAA objected however, calling the decision "flatly wrong" based on previous court findings and government statutes.

Source: Flight International