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ADSB used for landing fees?
Answered By AOPA
I've heard rumor of this, but now I wonder how broad it is.  I just got a $96 landing fee bill for Calgary International Airport.

I noticed on 9/1/2020 a flight popped up under my tail number and now I have a $100 bill that I have to spend time getting out of.  Seems like the bar to charge based on what could be bogus ADSB data is pretty low.  
What prevents someone from punching in someone else's tail number into their transponder to avoid landing fees?  

Here is the flight in question

You will see all other flight history is on the East Coast.  Given COVID we aren't even allowed into Canada.  I'm assuming this will be easy to resolve, but I hope AOPA is on this issue.
2 Replies
AOPA Staff Answer
Hi Lonzo,

I just heard back from our Government Affairs staff. They confirmed, as I did, that changing the hex code on a transponder can be done and all it takes in most cases is ingenuity, reading manuals, and a willingness to violate transponder rules to do it.

In your situation though, it's more likely that this was just a mis-key by ATC. Flightaware does pick up aircraft from ATC feeds and it could be that this aircraft was simply tagged up as N44LM, but could actually have been shortened from N544LM or any other longer callsign that includes "44LM". ATC routinely shortens tail numbers and that could be the reason for it showing up as your aircraft when it clearly isn't.

Of course the group at Calgary International shouldn't be using ADS-B to collect landing fees/billing. We would hope/expect that they would actually be looking at the tail number on the aircraft rather than using a product like flightaware. Our Government Affairs staff has spoken to owners that have received numerous invoices from Canada that were pre-ADS-B and that were simply erroneous.

It should be a non-issue for you to prove to the Canadians that it wasn't you that accrued the fee and that you shouldn't have to pay it.
Hi Lonzo,

Typically you will have landing fees in Canada and fees for the use of ATC services. It's my understanding that this is how they help pay for their ATC/Airport system. I can't imagine that the Canadian authorities depend on this for billing since they have no ADS-B mandate in Canada.

As for spoofing or using someone else's tail number, its not that easy on a majority of ADS-B out units. You'll need to change the hex code on ADS-B unit itself, which typically is not an easy task for most of us. Some units use an app to talk to the unit though, and it could be accomplished very easily on those. So its definitely something to be aware of. I don't know the legality of doing that either. I don't think the FAA or Transport Canada would be happy with an operator doing that intentionally.

Hopefully you'll be able to convince the Canadians that your 182 was no where near Canada at that time and it may have been an aircraft with a malfunctioning/incorrectly programed unit that caused the billing. We have seen errant billings before when ATC/airport managers have messed up the tail number when they recorded it.

I have an inquiry in to our Government Affairs staff concerning your question. I'm sure this is something that we have looked at, but I also don't want to speak for our staff in DC. I will post a reply here as soon as I get an answer.