U.S. FAA deciding if planesharing apps are legal

“The Federal Aviation Administration is formally deliberating on whether amateur pilots can use apps and websites to trade extra seats on flights they’ve planned in exchange for gas money,” Josh Constine reports for TechCrunch. “Amateur pilots aren’t allowed to profit from flying passengers, but several startups like Flytenow have set up private plane ridesharing sites, akin to Zimride for the sky.”

“Now, one startup called AirPooler has submitted an official request for legal interpretation to clear up the grey area, and confirms the FAA is expected to take a stance within its traditional 120 day window to respond,” Constine reports. “Until then, AirPooler has ceased listing flights on its site.”

“The FAA has historically prohibited private pilots from acting like taxis out of concern for safety,” Constine reports. “Commercial pilots and their planes are held to stricter “common carriage” safety standards because they’re so viscerally taking other people’s lives in their hands. Pilots typically only use word of mouth or other low-tech means of asking around if anyone wants to fly with them. There’s just too much risk of corner-cutting if they’re allowed to chase profits.”

Much more in the full article here.

8 Comments

  1. While I’m glad that there are some strict guidelines for commercial airlines (who I fairly regularly will put life on the line with) I really don’t see the problem with these sites hooking up people with flights even with the greater danger.

    That’s because they are not trying to be commercial airlines. They are just dudes and chics with their own plane probably headed somewhere with extra room and want to know if any other aviation enthusiasts want to chip on the gas. Hardly a huge moneymaker — and hardly for the average flier.

    1. You haven’t seen the costs of airplane fuel, maintenance, etc. It can greatly offset the costs of a private pilot owning his plane by having a few passengers each month. The real problem is that the inspection/maintenance process is far less rigorous (not that it’s lax, but nowhere like for commercial planes), and there is no training required beyond logging a certain amount of flight time to maintain your license. Also, there is a wide variation in equipment on small planes, which can affect whether the plane can only fly VFR (visual flight rules), by instruments, and what training the pilot has for that and for handling emergencies.

  2. I agree there’s probably no harm in this sort of thing. However I have to say that ‘sharing economy’ is one of the biggest misnomers we toss around these days – it isn’t ‘sharing’ if people are being charged for the privilege. That is, in fact, known as capitalism (and yes, that goes for loophole services too). Let’s just all acknowledge that these services are for-profit businesses and companies, however large or small, and get on with our day, shall we? 😉

    1. You’re completely wrong that there’s no harm in this type of service. There are HUGE differences in equipment, training for pilots, and plane capabilities in the event of bad weather, mechanical failure, etc. This is not akin to Uber or some auto ride sharing platform.

    2. I disagree, James. If I “share” a 50-pound bag of sugar with 5 friends so that each of us gets 10 pounds of sugar for 1/5 the price of the bag – but I’m not charging for actually going to Sam’s Club to buy it – how am I making money? “Sharing” is not automatically equivalent to “charity,” nor is proportional reimbursement for expenses equivalent to “making money.”

  3. Here’s the problem…

    When you’re a private pilot, there are all kinds of restrictions put in place because you haven’t had the training, experience, or testing/certification for commercial flights.

    The FAA has to have clear rules in place to prevent there from being a fuzzy definition of what constitutes a commercial flight.

    It may seem unnecessarily bureaucratic with arbitrary rules that restrict what would otherwise be safe, but as a pilot, that’s a good 90% of the process.

    The point here is that there are justifiable rules to protect against commercial flights by private pilots.

    At issue is whether these apps/services allow private pilots to break the rules or even if they violate the spirit of the rules.

    For example, the spirit of the rules are such that a private pilot is allowed to pro-rate share the expenses with a passenger who’s coming along for a ride that the pilot would otherwise take. This was set up in a time when that would occur via word of mouth or amongst friends… “Hey, let’s fly to Vegas, I’ve got a pilot’s license and can fly the plane if you pay for your share of the expenses”.

    That’s a lot different from someone having their logged hours subsidized by posting that they’ll fly people around if they pay for their share, and having a site that promotes and profits from this.

    The bottom line is that the FAA will have to regulate this, which means considerable expense. That money has to come from somewhere, and I’d be ok with all of this if the services were licensed and paid a fee to cover the expenses of regulation.

  4. I do not understand why government needs to be involved in this transaction at all. The consumer can evaluate whether he trusts his life with the pilot of a small plane. We really don’t need government watching over us.

  5. The apps will be nixed. Flying informal taxis are not going mainstream.

    As for actual terrestrial ‘ride-sharing’ taxis: I expect regulations if not prohibition in the near future if only to protect the consumers from what amounts to hitchhiking.

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