'I see you': Lebanon activists create flight tracker for politicians' private jets

'I see you': Lebanon activists create flight tracker for politicians' private jets
Despite Lebanon's economic meltdown, its elite continue to party. This flight tracker lets them know the world is watching.
3 min read
21 February, 2022
The service is operated through the twitter account Lebanon Private Jets [Getty]

A group of three Lebanese activists have created an automated service that tracks the private planes of Lebanon’s politicians and economic oligarchs.

The service, operated through the twitter account Lebanon Private Jets, automatically tweets whenever a Lebanese person of interest flies, anywhere in the world.

The tweets include the type of plane, its ID tag-sign, its owner (if available) and flight path.

The account grew out of a shared love of aviation and a growing anger over the jet-setting life style Lebanon's economic elite have lived throughout the crisis, one of the activists told The New Arab under the condition of anonymity.

"In modern history jets have played a major role in every revolution and big political transition – from Ben Ali escaping Tunisia, to evacuation during the fall of Saigon. We are just doing our part to keep a record of every movement," the activist said.

Lebanon's financial and economic meltdown – dubbed one of the "top three" worst economic crises in the last 150 years by the World Bank – has thrust over two thirds of the population into poverty.

Rapid hyperinflation has meant the price of even the most basic goods have climbed out of reach for the majority of Lebanon.

Despite the severity of the financial crisis, Lebanon's elite has not halted its luxurious lifestyle. Scenes of ministers partying and their children flying around the globe have enraged the public mired in poverty.

The three activists were aviation enthusiasts who connected on online aviation forums after they realised they all lived in Lebanon. They all lost their savings in the Lebanese financial crisis, which started in 2019 and as a result, "got p****d off".

They decided to channel that anger during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020, when they also noticed private jets taking off and arriving, despite the airport closure.

They began to log the IDs of the incoming jets using commercial flight applications, but grew frustrated after the IDs of number of high-profile jets were blocked by these applications.

The activists then used cameras they had with "superzoom lenses" to manually write down the IDs of incoming jets, adding it to a database of jets owned by Lebanon's political and business elite. In some cases, these IDs could be connected to their owners.

Some Lebanese made it easier than others. Fouad Makhzoumi, a Lebanese billionaire and politician, for example, uses the vanity ID "M-Fuad", making identifying him as the owner of the private jet easier.

Other airplanes were more difficult to identify, with owners using private companies to obscure ownership of the jet.

In these cases, the activists tried to crowdsource the information, asking their followers to send them any tips they might have about who might be flying where - and why.

The account was set up with the help of Jack Sweeney, a college student from Florida, who was offered $5,000 from Elon Musk after he set up a twitter bot that tracked the movements of Musk's private jet.

The efforts of the aviation trackers was in the same vein of Lebanese protesters who "name and shame" the economic and political elites.

One protest social media account, known as "Thawramap", crowdsources information on the location of Lebanese oligarchs, and urges protesters to go their locations and "shame them" for their role in the current crisis.

Noting that it is not up to them to "judge" who is held accountable, the activist still felt that their efforts were a small victory against what they see as a class of elites who are living large off their money.

"We were a part of that small upper society who are now... barely able to sustain their lives," the activist said. 

"So we still party with these politicians’ and bankers’ kids, but we are invisibly stabbing their families in the back … with a toothpick."