“Our house is burning, and some are watching it comfortably from their porthole”

HASn July, the six private jets of major French groups (Bouygues, Bolloré, Artémis, Decaux and Arnault) carried out fifty-three flights and emitted 520 tonnes of CO2, or the equivalent of the emissions of an average Frenchman for fifty-two years. This alarming report comes from the Twitter account @i_fly_Bernardwhich tracks the journeys of private jets owned by several manufacturers.

Doubtful, the general public wonders, is indignant and panics about such a way of life and the little regard for climate change that these many trips reveal. Faced with the popularity of these accounts and the resulting outrage, it is not surprising to read in an AFP dispatch that the billionaires would be “irritated by the online tracking of their private jets”. But where does the data for this monitoring come from and can it be freely used?

Unlike a land route, the sky is not physically bounded. To guarantee safety in the air and let planes pass each other without risk, technical and human resources have been gradually put in place. Several technologies are thus used to track aircraft movements, including the ADS-B system. Since December 2020, it is mandatory to fly over the European sky.

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Transparency of air traffic information is essential, both for air traffic controllers and for pilots; it is one of the pillars of security. This is why this data is sent through unencrypted channels and is therefore readable by anyone with a radio receiver. While the data collected by air traffic controllers is accessible to a limited number of people, tools such as the popular Flightradar24 allow the general public to track aircraft in real time. Based on official data and the crowdsourcing of thousands of receivers around the planet, this site is widely used by the curious and aviation enthusiasts. However, the tool accepts, on request, to remove information related to certain devices. It is therefore thanks to another site,, which refuses to operate such filtering, that several Twitter accounts follow the private jets of French groups, generate their trajectories and offer an estimate of CO2 issued for each flight.

decisive interest

While everyone agrees on the importance and necessity of air traffic data, their reuse for other purposes irritates the owners of these aircraft. Some do not hesitate to take up their defense, invoking the right to respect for private life. It is true that the Court of Cassation (first civil chamber, October 23, 1990) recognizes that everyone, whatever their rank, birth, fortune, present or future functions, has the right to respect for their private life ». Of course, billionaires also have a right to privacy. However, the argument of the protection of privacy for the benefit of these journeys is not convincing, for several reasons.

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