When Kylie Jenner’s very transient flight on a personal jet went viral last week, people were outraged — largely in regards to the environmental impact of the trip.
Jack Sweeney was unfazed. The 19-year-old whose Twitter account @CelebJets publicized Jenner’s trip has made a reputation for himself since January by publicly tracking the private jets of billionaires and celebrities. He says the response to Jenner’s 17-minute flight was only surprising to him because he’s seen Elon Musk take even shorter flights on his private jet, without nearly as much uproar.
Sweeney says Musk has flown multiple times from Los Angeles International Airport to Hawthorne Airport, that are about six miles — a 10-minute drive — apart. That is much shorter than Jenner’s roughly 40-mile flight from Camarillo, California, to Van Nuys, California.
“I’m probably not [surprised] people react,” Sweeney tells CNBC Make It. “There are such a lot of reasons they should be surprised. The indisputable fact that [flights] are even trackable, that it’s a celeb and it’s a fast flight.”
Musk didn’t immediately reply to CNBC Make Its request for comment.
Sweeney, a University of Central Florida sophomore who also writes software for UberJets, controls 30 Twitter accounts that track the private jets of billionaires, celebrities and Russian oligarchs. His hottest handle, @ElonJet, tracks Musk’s movements — and went viral in January after Sweeney declined Musk’s offer to take the account down for $5,000. That handle now has greater than 478,000 followers.
The accounts, which began popping up in June 2020, mechanically publish flight coordinates from code that Sweeney wrote to drag data from public web sites like ADS-B Exchange, which post the placement, altitude and speed transmitted by every federally regulated aircraft.
Notably, Sweeney says, the info can sometimes be deceiving. Especially short flights can often be explained by an easy rationale: The pilot is dropping off its passenger at one airport, after which parking the plane at one other airport nearby.
“I think [Jenner’s short flight] was for parking the aircraft in Camarillo, while they get off at Van Nuys,” Sweeney tweeted last week. “Same with Kim [Kardashian]. It’s probably cheaper to park the aircraft in Camarillo.”
Music star Drake, whose whereabouts are also tracked on @CelebJets, supports Sweeney’s theory. In a Tuesday comment on an Instagram post about Drake’s own extra-short flights, the rapper wrote: “That is just them moving planes to whatever airport they’re being stored at for anyone who was concerned with the logistics… no one takes that flight.”
Sweeney’s flight-tracking endeavors have recently been accused of violating celebrities’ privacy. But because his code pulls from public data, Sweeney stays unsympathetic. He says anyone with motivation can access the knowledge, and celebrities themselves aren’t normally shy about posting photos of their jets on social media.
“People have the private planes, they post all of those pictures on them,” Sweeney says. “It isn’t a secret.”
For now, Sweeney says his side hustle stays fairly passive – and never very lucrative. He makes a few hundred dollars every month from ad revenue and donations to his website. He says he plans to eventually make the project more profitable, listing off ideas like expanding his website into an all-in-one celebrity flight tracker or finding a approach to offer carbon offsets for among the flights he tracks.
Just don’t expect any major updates in the approaching months: Sweeney says he’s spending the summer traveling and dealing, and won’t expand his code — primarily by adding more jets to his project — until he returns to campus this fall.
“The funny thing is, once I’m back at college, I feel like I get more done,” Sweeney says. “There are less distractions.”
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