JIM WATSON / AFP
Billionaire Elon Musk speaks during a press conference at the SpaceX launch site in South Texas, United States, in February 2022.
ENVIRONMENT – How to annoy both senior Chinese officials, Elon Musk and Kylie Jenner? Track their private jets. In the midst of the climate and energy crisis, the sites and Twitter accounts that follow the air traffic of businessmen in real time are particularly followed and this popularity provokes the ire of the personalities in question.
US law requires aircraft in certain areas to be equipped with the ADS-B satellite system, which periodically radios the aircraft’s position to air traffic controllers. A site like Flightradar24 has 34,000 ground receivers around the world that can pick up such signals, data sent to a central network and cross-referenced with flight schedules and other aircraft information.
In France, the Instagram account “laviondebernard”a page intended to track all the movements of the boss of LVMH Bernard Arnault, has revealed in recent months the sometimes ultra-short journeys in the air of the richest Frenchman in the world, as you can see in the video below. The businessman, for example, took his jet for a ten-minute journey between West London and East London on May 28.
$5,000 to bury the “ElonJet” Twitter account
Every year, Russian air cargo companies, Saudi aircraft owners or others ask Dan Streufert, founder of the US flight tracking site ADS-B Exchange, to stop publishing their whereabouts. Without success. “We haven’t deleted anything so far. This is public information. And I don’t want to be the arbiter who decides who is right or wrong.”explains Dan Streufert.
Some limitations exist, but groups that reconstruct flight paths point out that the primary source of information is legally available and accessible to anyone with the necessary equipment.
Successfully identifying the owner of a plane is another matter, according to Jack Sweeney, 19, creator of the Twitter account “Celebrity Jets”, who unearthed Elon Musk’s private jet after a request to the US government’s public records. Tesla boss offered him $5,000 to bury the account “ElonJet”, more than 480,000 subscribers, which follows all the movements of the multi-billionaire’s plane.
“He’s got so much interest, I’m doing something that works. People like to see what celebrities are doing, that, and the stuff around the shows”, notes Jack Sweeney, referring to the indignation vis-à-vis the carbon footprint of planes. Posting this type of information on Twitter allows people “to access it more easily and to understand”he adds.
“The data is already there”
In July, the account “Celebrity Jets” revealed that reality TV star Kylie Jenner took a private jet for a 17-minute flight to California causing an uproar on social media. ‘They tell us working class people to feel guilty about our annual flight on a much needed vacation while these celebrities take private jets every other day like it’s an Uber’tweeted an outraged user.
Neither Jack Sweeney nor Dan Streufert have mentioned a red line they wouldn’t want to cross regarding the publication of flight routes. “The data is already there. I’m just redistributing them”says the founder of “ElonJet”.
This activity also generates income, even if it is difficult to assess. Dan Streufert admits to earning his living this way but refuses to give details while Jack Sweeney assures that his flight tracking accounts brought him around 100 dollars a month.
Flightradar24 does not communicate on its turnover
Flight tracking can also have a big impact beyond the ire of celebrities and billionaires, as US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan in early August showed. was followed by more than 700,000 people on the Flightradar24 site at the time of its landing.
In August, an NGO report accusing the European border surveillance agency, Frontex, of facilitating the refoulement of migrants attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean was based on data from ADS-B systems, as well as American media used it to denounce the presence of surveillance flights during anti-racism demonstrations in Washington in 2020.
Dozens of elected members of Congress had, after these revelations, urged in a letter the FBI and other government agencies such as the National Guard to “stop monitoring peaceful protesters”.
Elsewhere in the world, governments have made it clear that these technologies and this type of data are not welcome. Chinese state media reported in 2021 that the government had seized hundreds of receivers used by real-time flight tracking sites under the guise of risk “of espionage”. “In many cases, it’s the authoritarian regimes that don’t like this kind of visibility”emphasizes Dan Streufert.
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