Risky Transparency: Is Trinity Foundation ‘Doxing’ televangelist jets?

(Photo: Pastor Planes tracked 13 aircraft on November 20, 2022.)

For eighteen months Pastor Planes, a project of Trinity Foundation, has published daily tracking maps of televangelist, ministry and Christian university jet flights to bring transparency to religious non-profit use of private aircraft.

Private jets are often examples of poor stewardship and a waste of donor funds.

And then it happened! Twitter suspended Celebrity Jets, a popular account well known for real-time tracking of jets owned by Hollywood celebrities. Celebrity Jets was accused of “doxing” — which is a word that  typically refers to revealing the address of a person’s home. In this new context it refers to posting real-time location of an aircraft.

How is Pastor Planes any different?

Instead of posting flights in real-time, Pastor Planes publishes tracking maps on the following day.

(Photo: Twitter CEO Elon Musk explaining Twitter’s privacy policy regarding tracking of aircraft.)

If Twitter were to require a longer “delayed basis”, Pastor Planes would make the required adjustment.

The decisions to suspend numerous jet tracking accounts followed news reports that singer Taylor Swift was fearful because her travel plans were disclosed by the Twitter account Celebrity Jets, AND an alleged incident of a stalker targeting Elon Musk. Taylor’s fans mass reported the Celebrity Jets account on Twitter.

(Photo: London Daily Mail reports on the tracking of Taylor Swift’s Dassault Falcon 900B jet.)

Real-time tracking of jets, while controversial, is sometimes newsworthy. In 2013, when whistleblower Edward Snowden left Hong Kong by jet, news media around the world tracked the jet to Russia.

Musk and Swift have both used a special government program in attempts to prevent real-time tracking. Owners of aircraft can apply for a Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) which is not published in the Federal Aviation Administration Registry. The aircraft owner is assigned an alternative code to use in its radio transponder so the aircraft can fly anonymously.

However, there are ways to identify anonymous aircraft. Jack Sweeney, creator of Celebrity Jets, uncovered jets, tracking them publicly and identifying the aircraft by their private alternative hex codes and call signs when the owner is not identified in the FAA registry.  These are also called PIA codes, short for privacy ICAO address codes, which allow an aircraft to avoid using its real identifying letters and numbers painted on the tail of the aircraft.

(Photo: The week before Twitter shut down Celebrity Jets, the jet tracker disclosed it was tracking Taylor Swift’s jet again.)

Before it was shut down, Celebrity Jets disclosed the tons of carbon dioxide generated by celebrity-owned jets, revealing the hypocrisy of Hollywood celebrities that would speak publicly in favor of environmental issues.

Minimizing Harm

Pastor Planes has discovered several televangelists using PIA to hide their flights from tracking websites. However, Pastor Planes’ tracking maps of aircraft don’t expose these actual PIA codes or the aircraft using them.

Pastor Planes has also refrained from posting travel maps of two ministry aircraft that regularly fly aid to dangerous locations.

To date not a single church, ministry or Christian university has contacted Trinity Foundation/Pastor Planes requesting that flights not be included in published tracking maps.

Why Track Ministry Jets?

The main reason is poor stewardship! It is many times more expensive to own and fly private jets than to fly commercial.

Also, we’ve uncovered quite a lot of criminal activity such as bulk-cash smuggling taking place on ministry jets.  Here are some other examples:

In the 1990s, a DEA agent disclosed that televangelist Robert Tilton’s jet landed at a Mexican airport carrying a pallet stacked with cash destined for Haiti.

Another informant has a nickname for televangelist jets—he calls them “laundry tubes” because he witnessed the jet owner, a prosperity gospel preacher, engaging in money laundering.

According to confidential informants, televangelists have smuggled drugs and rubies on their jets.

With regard to poor stewardship, there are the additional costs of purchasing a jet, hiring pilots, costly insurance, regular maintenance, FAA required inspections, hanger fees, and landing fees to pay.

Televangelist jets have often used ministry-owned aircraft for personal vacations and it is doubtful that all of them are paying taxes on the personal flights, which is required by the United States tax code. Some televangelists are also renting out their ministry jets but not filing a Form 990-T to disclose unrelated business income.

One final question worth asking: If televangelists and ministries weren’t wasting money on expensive private aircraft, what could they do with these funds?

Yowie bot, one of the few celebrity jet trackers still on Twitter, doesn’t post tracking maps. Rather, it discloses how many people could be fed with money spent on jet fuel used during these private flights AND the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the flights.

Christians should practice donor responsibility and have higher standards than the secular world in the areas of financial transparency and non-profit travel. Christian leaders are commanded to be good stewards of resources entrusted to them. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”