FAA deciding (again) if aircraft sharing apps are legal

FAA deciding (again) if aircraft sharing apps are legal 10 Jul, 14, Source: HeliHub.com

The FAA is once again formally deliberating on whether amateur pilots can use apps and websites to trade extra seats on flights they’ve planned in exchange for fuel contributions. Amateur pilots aren’t allowed to profit from flying passengers, but several startups like Airpooler and Flytenow have set up private aircraft ride-sharing sites.

Professional pilots across the US are understandably unhappy as the passengers using these services are by implication not using full-fare services on aircraft flown by approved charter operators using appropriately qualified pilots.  Issues are cited including how a low-time VFR private pilot responds to deteriorating weather with money-contributing passengers on board, but ultimately the professional pilots are concerned for their income.

Airpooler has taken the initiative by submitting an official request for legal interpretation to clear up the grey area, and confirmed in an article in Techcrunch that the FAA is expected to respond within 120 days.  As a precaution, Airpooler has ceased listing flights, while competitor Flytenow – only active around Boston and San Francisco at this time – continue undaunted.

The Passenger FAQ page on Airpooler’s website has the following, acknowledging they are aware of at least some regulations

  • Q> Can I compensate pilots?
  • A> No. Federal regulations prohibit private pilots from accepting compensation from passengers.

A further interesting twist is that Airpooler is set up so the passengers pay their share of the flight costs through their website, not direct to the pilot.  This enables them to take a slice of the fee to run their website – but could mean they are a charter broker depending on how the rules are written.  Plus there’s a “cancellation charge” of $10 a head if the passenger(s) cancel within 24 hours of the flight.

Still others are expecting that these apps will create a sudden surge of bookings of training school self-hire aircraft which will then lead to the system self-destructing as these organisations see how their aircraft are being used.  Is it really going to be so successful that it’s really this noticeable?

On the other hand, find me a private pilot who has not at some point taken money towards fuel.  Aren’t these apps just formalising (and exploiting) a situation which has existed for decades?

It looks like the FAA will confirm these services are legitimate.  A letter from 2005 requesting a very similar clarification of PilotShareTheRide.com and FAA Regional Counsel Loretta E Alkalay concluded “We perceive nothing in the sharetheride (sic) program itself that indicates the unlawful offer of air transportation, although we appreciate the potential for abuse as a means for a pilot to build time subsidized in part by others. The commission of a violation will depend on the details of the operation flown by the posting pilot“.

Ben Haverdee – HeliHub.com

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