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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, board a flight on June 7 in Ottawa. The Trudeaus are among some of the biggest VIPs the military transports, including the Governor-General and members of the Royal Family.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The military says it’s exploring ways to add a layer of secrecy to the movement of some Canadian Armed Forces flights, including the planes that carry the Prime Minister and the Governor-General.

The Royal Canadian Air Force says no decision has been made on how to proceed, but it’s investigating how it might prevent the real-time tracking of military aircraft. One option would be taking steps to ensure that flight-tracking websites, which sell their services for a fee, are unable to display the movement of some Canadian military planes.

Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations for the Department of National Defence, said the air force is working with NAV Canada, Transport Canada and other partners to examine options for increasing security on certain military flights.

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“This includes potential measures to limit the visibility of RCAF aircraft on publicly accessible aircraft tracking platforms” in some cases, he said.

Mr. Le Bouthillier said the cases where the military may want additional security safeguards include “flights to protect North American airspace through NORAD operations or sensitive transport flights.”

Some of the biggest VIPs the military transports include the Prime Minister, Governor-General and members of the Royal Family. Flights carrying the Prime Minister use the call sign Canforce 01 (CFC 01) and flights carrying the Governor-General use the call sign Canforce 3701 (CFC 3701).

In the United States, the government has taken steps to obscure tracking of Air Force One, the plane that carries the U.S. President.

He said real-time tracking of the majority of Canadian military flights does not worry the military. “Having the position and movements of our aircraft visible via tracking platforms is not a concern for the large majority of operational scenarios – for example, when conducting search and rescue operations, transport or transit flights, or routine training where there is no risk to operational security.”

If the military does end up obscuring the real-time movements of some flights, the information on this air traffic would still be publicly available later. Passenger manifests could be obtained by access-to-information requests, Mr. Le Bouthillier said.

The matter came to light after the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates civil aviation in the United States, discussed a Canadian request to block call signs in a July 14 e-mail to aviation stakeholders with an interest in the agency’s Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) program. This program allows aircraft owners to block or limit the dissemination of flight data.

Jack Sweeney, an American college student in Florida, who is perhaps best known for creating the “ElonJet” Twitter account that tracks business magnate Elon Musk’s private jet using air traffic data, published the FAA e-mail on his own Twitter account last week.

In the letter, FAA analyst William Blacker tells aviation stakeholders that “NAV Canada is working to improve operational security of some of their sensitive flight data. NAV Canada is pursuing additional options, but has requested several call sign combinations to be added to the LADD Filter file.”

It also lists call signs that Canada wanted blocked from real-time flight tracking: 11 call signs with thousands of different permutations depending on the numbers that follow names including CANFORCE, HUNTER, HUSKY, JUNO, MOLSON, ODIN, PATHFINDER, SONIC, VIMY and BUBBLY. For instance, it wants any call signs CANFORCE 1 to CANFORCE 9999 blocked.

The Federal Aviation Administration declined to discuss the e-mail when asked by The Globe and Mail, and referred questions to NAV Canada, the not-for-profit corporation that owns and operates Canada’s civil air navigation system.

NAV Canada’s manager of media relations Brian Boudreau would only say that the company collaborates “with the FAA, RCAF and Transport Canada to remove certain flight data from flight-tracking websites when the RCAF determines there’s an operational requirement.”

Steffan Watkins, an Ottawa-based research consultant who tracks aircraft and ships worldwide, said efforts to block call signs from being disseminated on flight-tracking websites may create barriers for members of the public who are unskilled in monitoring plane movement. But those who track flights as a hobby, or professionally, and rely on an independent network of sensors that track plane transponders, such as ADSBexchange, or SkyScanWorld, will see no change.

“These measures seem targeted at the lowest-skilled public to reduce transparency of routine flights,” he said.

He said it also won’t affect the ability of adversaries or rivals such as the Russians or Chinese from tracking Canadian military flights in regions near their borders.

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