- Elon Musk applied for a new FAA program to make it more difficult to track his plane, according to the college student who tracks his plane online.
- The billionaire appeared to join the program after the student recommended the tool.
- Musk is one of many celebrities looking for ways to dodge jet-tracking accounts on social media.
Elon Musk appears to be trying to fly incognito after the college student who tracks his private jet on Twitter rejected his $5,000 offer to delete the account.
The billionaire applied for a temporary aircraft registration number, according to the student, Jack Sweeney, who runs the jet-tracking account @ElonJet, after speaking with him about how to avoid being tracked. The Twitter account currently has nearly 500,000 followers.
“What should I do?” Musk messaged in December, according to a screenshot from Sweeney.
At the time, Sweeney said the billionaire should look into a new FAA program that would allow him to change his flight identification number, saying Musk would “definitely need the program.”
In 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a privacy ICAO aircraft address program, also known as PIA. The program allows aircraft owners to apply for a temporary aircraft registration number that is not currently attached to any other plane — meaning that celebrities like Musk can essentially fly anonymously.
Up until recently, the program appears to have had few users. Though, jet-tracking accounts like Sweeney’s could make the program more popular. Last week, industry executives at the National Business Aviation Association discussed ways to mitigate real-time tracking.
The PIA program allows aircraft owners to switch out their registration number every 60 days. Though, Sweeney noted it can be a laborious process. Christian Renneissen, Collins Aerospace’s manager for flight deck connectivity, previously told the trade publication AV Buyer that while the PIA program is essentially free, it’s a hassle due to a substantial amount of paperwork.
What’s more, the entire process would have to start all over again if the new registration number is exposed and tied to the owner — which Sweeney said is all too easy.
“Elon Musk, for example, has a Gulfstream and there’s only so many people that fly that particular plane out of Brownsville, Texas and fly to the same airports,” Sweeney told Insider.
The incognito registration number also doesn’t prevent Sweeney from tracking the private jet via ADS-B Exchange, a public flight-tracking database. Jets that fly with the temporary identification number can be easily found on the ADS-B Exchange, as shown by a screenshot shared with Insider that shows the jet that Sweeney says is Musk’s was flying on May 7 with no callsign, no tail number, but had “PIA” flagged.
Musk is also on the FAA’s free “Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed” program, or LADD list. The list allows aircraft owners to avoid being tracked by sites that use FAA data. Though, the list has no impact on the ADS-B Exchange, which provides data to Sweeney’s jet-tracking accounts.
Musk isn’t the only one to attempt to dodge flight-tracking accounts on social media. Celebrities like Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey are on the LADD list, while Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault recently said he’s started renting private planes to avoid jet-tracking accounts.