Here's how to track the latest location of Elon Musk's private jet, after Twitter banned the @ElonJet account of a student who tracked the aircraft

·3 min read
Jack Sweeney and Elon Musk
Elon Musk and Jack SweeneyJack Sweeney and Getty
  • His Gulfstream could be seen having landed Wednesday evening in Austin through ADS-B Exchange.

  • On Thursday, it took off again in the afternoon local time heading northwest.

  • Twitter recently suspended the account of a student who created a tool that posted flights taken by the billionaire's jet.

Elon Musk is trying to keep his private jet travels away from public view, despite the fact that his flight data is available online and relatively easy to track.

His Gulfstream jet, registered through an LLC he owns, could be seen having landed on Wednesday evening in Austin through an online tracker, ADS-B Exchange. On Thursday, it took off again in the afternoon local time heading northwest.

ADS-B is accessible to anyone online. The site makes use of flight information transmitted by federal law to show thousands of commercial and private aircraft flights all over the world. While Musk has recently begun to claim such tracking poses a security risk, ADS-B addresses that stance on its website.

"If aircraft do not want to be seen, (such as military aircraft on a mission) they can always turn their transponders 'off,'" the site says. "The position data shown by ADSBexchange is available to anyone who can spend $50 on Amazon and put the parts together. It's not secret. Air Traffic Control voice comms are not encrypted either, and contain similar (or more) information."

The billionaire and new Twitter owner does seem to have opted into a program offered by the Federal Aviation Association called Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed, or LADD, in an effort to limit some information about his aircraft. Another website, FlightAware, does not show any flight information for Musk's jet, saying on its website it does so at the request of the owner.

A spokesperson for the FAA and ADS-B Exchange did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The cities where Musk's private jet lands have for years been openly accessible for public viewing through sites that receive and track flight data that is mandated to be transmitted by the FAA.

Earlier this week, Musk suspended a Twitter account of a 20-year old student, Jack Sweeney, who created a tool that automatically posted flights taken by the billionaire's jet. Musk also suspended Sweeney's personal Twitter account and is now threatening "legal action" against him. He said the cities where his jet lands being made available on Twitter threatened the safety of his family.

After implementing the suspensions, Twitter changed its rules to state that the posting of a person's "live location" is now prohibited, despite a history of live posting, video and events being core to Twitter's function and appeal as a platform. Twitter also suspended more than 30 other accounts that similarly used public flight data to track private jet travel of notable billionaires and political figures, like Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Other notable billionaires have taken pains to keep their flight data inaccessible by the public. Google co-founder Larry Page is also part of the LADD program and frequently uses rental jets to keep his travels more secret, as Insider reported. Bernard Arnault, the co-founder and CEO of luxury fashion group LVMH, earlier this year sold his private jet and began using rentals to avoid his flights being made public.

In addition to private jet tracking showing where the ultra-wealthy are traveling to, accounts like Sweeney's that posted on social media about the flights noted how long they were and how much air-pollution such trips created. Private planes are known to be 14 times more pollutive per passenger than a commercial flight, creating 2 metric tons of carbon per hour.

Correction: December 15, 2022 — Elon Musk's private jet is still being tracked by the website ADS-B Exchange. An earlier version of this story stated otherwise.

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