Elon Musk turns to free FAA program to avoid being publicly tracked on Twitter. Fails

With a little work, his Gulfstream jet can still be spotted.
Ameya Paleja
Musk's jet tracking woes are far from over
Musk's jet tracking woes are far from over

Wikimedia Commons/ Twitter  

The world's richest person went straight back to the teenager, Jack Sweeney, who began tracking his jet to figure out a way to keep his flight information private. On Sweeney's advice, Musk has been using a Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) program to fly incognito in the sky, Business Insider reported.

Earlier this year, Sweeney put his computing skills to task when he set up an automated account on Twitter, Elonjet, that sends out posts every time Musk's private aircraft takes off or makes a landing. Interesting Engineering has previously reported that Sweeney uses the ADS-B Exchange, a public repository of flight information that is used by air traffic controllers and other aircraft to know the positions of flights in the air.

Musk has vehemently opposed the public sharing of his whereabouts, calling it a security risk and fearing that he could be "shot down by a nutcase." He had even offered Sweeney a sum of US$5,000 to shut down the Twitter account, but Sweeney's counter-offer of $50,000, which would probably see him through college, did not get a response.

Musk goes to a 19-year-old for help

For all this technical know-how and the many engineers on his team, Musk likely could not figure out a way to stop the tracking of his jet. His offer to buy out Twitter in April this year and take it private had spooked Sweeney, who then set up accounts on other social media platforms in case his Twitter account was shut down.

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Musk's flip-flops over the deal have meant that the account continues to send out its tweets. However, as Sweeney told Business Insider, the world's richest person approached the college student through Direct Messages (DMs) on Twitter to figure a way out.

Screenshots of the DMs between the two show Musk asking Sweeney what he could do about his concerns and the latter promising him help with an FAA program that allows aircraft to frequently change their International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) identifier.

What is FAA's PIA program?

Back in 2019, the FAA introduced its privacy ICAO aircraft address (PIA) program that allows aircraft owners to apply for temporary aircraft registration numbers which are not attached to any other plane, allowing flyers to fly anonymously.

According to Business Insider's report, the PIA program does not involve a payment fee to get a temporary ICAO address but surely requires a ton of paperwork to be completed. The registration can be changed every 60 days.

It appears that Musk took the paperwork option out of the situation and changed the ICAO aircraft for his private jet. His aircraft also appears on the FAA's Limited Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) program. However, both these programs can help against sites that use FAA's data to track airplanes. Since Sweeney uses ADS-B data, it was relatively easy to spot him again.

Sweeney told Business Insider that there were only a limited number of Gulfstream jets sold and even a smaller number that would fly out of Brownsville, Texas, and frequent the same airports that Musk does.

Here's a recent automated tweet from the Twitter account, posted about seven hours prior to writing this.

Musk's aircraft is once again visible on the social media platform, and he might have to take the Bernard Arnault way to avoid being tracked.

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