FAA Grounds Attempts At Ride Sharing For Amateur Pilots

from the because-that's-what-the-FAA-does dept

Hot off of doing its best to kill off any commercial use of drones, the FAA is now looking to ground some attempts at building ride sharing for amateur pilots. While plenty of people are referring to AirPooler as an “Uber for airplanes,” it’s not really like that. Here, the idea is that if you’re a pilot flying somewhere, you can post your plans and if someone was looking to travel that route, they can hop on board and pay some of the fuel costs. The end result basically benefits everyone. The pilot has lower costs, the traveler gets a cheap flight and everyone’s better off. This kind of thing happened informally all the time in the past, usually by word of mouth and bulletin boards. Airpooler is just formalizing the process.

But the FAA… doesn’t like it. It claims that any offsetting of the pilots costs makes it a commercial endeavor and that violates the FAA’s rules on private (non-commercial) pilots.

Private pilots as a general rule may not act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire nor, for compensation or hire, may they acts as pilot in command of an aircraft.

Now, there is an exception to that rule if the passengers are paying a pro rata share of the expenses of the flight. So this shouldn’t be a problem, right? Wrong. The reasoning here is about as opaque as a foggy morning in San Francisco. The FAA repeats that there’s an exception for expense sharing, but then argues that AirPooler can’t rely on this exception.

As such, although § 61.113(c) contains an expense-sharing exception to the general prohibition against private pilots acting as pilot in command for compensation or hire, a private pilot may not rely on that narrow exception to avoid the compensation component of common carriage. For this reason, the FAA has required a private pilot to have a common purpose with his or her passengers and must have his or her own reason for travelling to the destination.

Likewise, although airline transport pilots and commercial pilots may as as pilot in command on an aircraft carrying passengers for compensation or hire, they may not conduct a commercial operation involving common carriage without obtaining a part 119 certificate. You have urged that the test for compensation in commercial operations is “the major enterprise for profit” test set forth in the definition of commercial operator. Specifically, you state that a pilot would not be engaged in a major enterprise for profit “if accepting only the cost reimbursements allowed under § 61.113.”

Based on the fact that the FAA views expense-sharing as compensation for which an exception is necessary for private pilots, the issue of compensation is not in doubt.

Therefore, the “major enterprise for profit” test in § 1.1 is wholly inapplicable. Accordingly, we conclude that, with regard to pilots using the AirPooler website, all four elements of common carriage are present. By posting specific flights to the AirPooler website, a pilot participating in the AirPooler serve would be holding out to transport persons or property from place to place for compensation or hire. Although the pilots participating in the AirPooler website have chosen the destination, they are holding out to the public to transport passengers for compensation in the form of a reduction of the operating expenses they would have paid for the flight. This position is fully consistent with prior legal interpretations related to other nationwide initiatives involving expense-sharing flights.

Got it? I’ve read it over half a dozen times and I’m still confused. There’s an exception that says that a passenger can pay their share of the expenses and it doesn’t make it a commercial flight, but… that doesn’t apply here because it’s compensation, as clearly determined by the fact that there’s an exception for this kind of compensation. Say what?

AirPooler apparently plans to ask the FAA “to elaborate” though the FAA’s historical approach to almost any innovation seems to be “well, let’s wait and not really make a decision for as long as is humanly possible.” End result: significantly less innovation, not just from the likes of AirPooler, but all of the entrepreneurs who won’t even try to build startups in the space.

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Companies: airpooler

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Comments on “FAA Grounds Attempts At Ride Sharing For Amateur Pilots”

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Christopher Best (profile) says:

What were these folks thinking?

I can’t believe anyone actually involved in Aviation would ever think AirPooler had a snow flurry’s chance in hell of working out. The restrictions on getting compensation for flying people/cargo without a commercial license are very well known and vigorously enforced.

Heck, even the appearance of commercial use is forbidden–see a pilot colleague I knew who rented a car and drove from Boston to Atlantic City International Airport to work on some software (at the airport!), because his company could reimburse him for the car rental but not for a plane rental.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: My examiner

I think it boils down to the intent.

Your friend says “hey I’d like to fly with you wherever your going, think it would be fun”
This is for enjoyment, couple friends splitting the cost of their “entertainment”

Vs the pilot advertising “I am flying from x to y you can come along for $50”

This is for commercial gain, the pilot simply wanted to save money in his pocket.

If you are flying there anyway, you likely would not ask your friend to split the cost anyway.

Blah says:

FAA Regs


Think about it, as a private pilot, the required skill level is less, the level of recent flights is less, the required equipment in the plane less.

If as private pilot you want to go up and kill yourself, or maybe a close friend, fine. Kill an unsuspecting member of the public, no.

The other thing your are missing in the regs, a common purpose is needed. If my reason to go from A to B is see a family member, then someone else going to B better want to see that same family member.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: FAA Regs

Unsuspecting member of the public? The service is clear, it’s about hooking amateur pilots and people wanting to go somewhere in common with them. You know the risks, you choose whether to go for it or not. And it’s not like those less experienced pilots don’t already fly. They do. And a lot. And I have yet to see small planes raining down in an airborne doomsday.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

There is a conversation

There is existing law and regs on the books if you want to fly for profit. If you want to be allowed to advertise, do business, or in general do anything in terms of flying then you get the specific certification allowing it.

If you want to be a hobbyist who flies on weekends, its expensive, Yes you can ask your friends for gas money, but thats it.

The FAA is so ass backwards that if they attempt to exploit the loophole, you’re more likely to get the hole closed. Sure, in 10 years they might add a new small plane category but like anything the FAA does, it will take years and meetings.

shawn says:

The main difference is “holding out” or more plainly advertising yourself which is what this site was used for. Keep in mind this isn’t new and is used for safety reasons. Pilots of different levels have different requirements not just in ability but also in airports they can go to and even more rules regarding day and night operations. There are a few exceptions to the air carrier requirement. Look up I believe the acronym is IPPFACTFIB it gives a list of operations that you can do without the certification. Also a clarification the pro rata share is with regards to the pilot and is at least. I apologize for any odd words typped this on my phone

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No problemo here

Or repurpose it for commercial charter airplanes. Crowd funded flights.

Lots of people post where they want to go from/to.
Match them up with commercial airplane.

Cabbies, Uber drivers and pilots can all be crazy wacko serial killers so that’s the same everywhere.

When the cabbies or Uber drivers car breaks down or their driving skills suck it is unlikely to end in death.

People are usually dead when airplanes crash, this is what sets airplanes in a different class than Uber.

I do envision a day where we have self flying airplanes that are very reliable and safe. When that day arrives we should allow Uber type services for those aircraft.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cars don't fall from the sky, airplanes do

If you poorly maintain your car worst case you crash into something, MAYBE someone dies.

A poorly maintained aircraft, worst case you crash and MAYBE you live.

I am currently building an ultralight airplane, the FAA rules prohibit the airplane from having the ability to take up a passenger. The passenger may not truly understand the risks, the FAA rules protect them.

Same thing here, John Q Public knows that the commercial airline industry is highly regulated and safe. Private pilots, sport pilots have far less regulation and oversight, the risks are higher and the average Joe truly has no idea.

Whatever (profile) says:

Anything any risk in the name of innovation

This is one of those great examples of why there are laws.

Yes, it’s wonderfully innovative (in some odd way) to offer seats on private planes for profit. However, since the requirements to fly solo are very small (hours in a class, and about a dozen flight hours total) the risks related are high.

Private pilots, unless instrument rated, are unable to fly after dark in cloudy conditions, and pretty much any other time than a fine sunny day. You can bet that for a paycheck, less experienced pilots may choose to fly when conditions are less than optimal to make their money.

Customers could also get cranky if the pilot doesn’t want to go, leading the pilot into making a poor safety choice.

If this is innovation, then perhaps we need to stand still instead. This advances nothing except risk and the potential for huge lawsuits.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Anything any risk in the name of innovation

So what? These pilots are flying anyway, alone or not, it’s not like they are offering a commercial service. And it’s up to a sane person that’s about to take the ride to evaluate the conditions and refuse to board. Again: there is no profit involved, the one riding will HELP with the expenses. You are referring to them as passengers and customers when they are just up for a ride.

Read comprehension fail.

JMT says:

Re: Anything any risk in the name of innovation

“Yes, it’s wonderfully innovative (in some odd way) to offer seats on private planes for profit.”

Not profit, cost sharing. Learn to read.

“However, since the requirements to fly solo are very small (hours in a class, and about a dozen flight hours total) the risks related are high.”

And if that’s the pilot you choose to fly with, good luck to you. Or you could choose to fly with an experienced pilot.

“Private pilots, unless instrument rated, are unable to fly after dark in cloudy conditions, and pretty much any other time than a fine sunny day. You can bet that for a paycheck, less experienced pilots may choose to fly when conditions are less than optimal to make their money.”

Again, where’s all this paycheck coming from? The passenger is sharing the cost, not covering all costs plus a profit.

“Customers could also get cranky if the pilot doesn’t want to go, leading the pilot into making a poor safety choice.”

And yet we allow carpooling. Oh the insanity…

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Lesson one

Lesson one for every wannabe Federal (or other) bureaucrat before they are allowed to make our lives miserable is that you never let people know exactly what you mean, and to keep all the regulations you create as ambiguous as possible, encapsulated in as much bureaucratic gobbledygook as possible so that it is impossible for anyone with a brain to parse. Trying to do so will make your head explode!

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Nothing new, but it probably SHOULD BE!

This is nothing new from the US FAA. The FAA has strongly disagreed with this, and they pull a history of letters (see above) all the way to 1976. They have _always_ held that in order to use the exception to the rule and accept that pro-rata reimbursement of expenses, there must be a common or joint undertaking between the pilot and the passengers [to which the flight is incidental]. This unfortunately guts the two companies’ abilities to operate under existing FAA regulations.

What does this mean for people everywhere? It means if there’s a plane out there going exactly where you want to go with room, you can’t get on it. You have to go buy a ticket from the airlines, go through TSA Security-Theater, and not get on the small plane.

What does this mean for PPLs everywhere? It means they have to fly with an otherwise empty aircraft, no company, nobody to share in the expenses, on a flight they are taking anyway.

MONEY and TIME and FUEL are wasted due to this regulation.

I understand the reasoning, and it is consistent with nearly 40 years of thinking. Perhaps it’s time the FAA worked not to batten down the hatches on its 40-year old thinking, and took a step to improving the lives of people in its domain.

A change to the regulations permitting this would be in the right direction. I understand the reason for the requirements of e.g. FARS Parts 119 and Part 135. I also understand that if I can sign a disclaimer to “ride this ride if you’re this tall” someone can do so to come ride with me and share the expense even if we have no common goal.

Commercial Pilot – Rotorcraft

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nothing new, but it probably SHOULD BE!

See what I find about all this is people assume this would be cheaper/faster but lets face it, it’s not going to be the guy with the learjet who would do this. In MOST cases “anything beyond 50nm” it’s going to be cheaper to drive (and not that bad on a time difference) and the further you go out the better chances you can just get a ride on a commuter airline. This really would ONLY help those who need to suddenly get to some place within the same state.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nothing new, but it probably SHOULD BE!

That depends on the price pilots would charge – provided the passenger pays more than the marginal cost of carrying them (pretty much the extra fuel cost), it is a win for the pilot, so he can happily charge quite a low amount. A person driving, OTOH, uses less marginal fuel per person but still has to pay for fuel and wear and tear for shifting the car itself.

Jason says:

Re: Nothing new, but it probably SHOULD BE!

That is one of the better descriptions of the rules that I’ve seen.

This has always seemed like one of the most murky areas of the regulations. (Right up there with how to log PIC time…) It seems like it should be simple, but it sure never lends itself to a quick description.

I’ve always used an out-of-state wedding as a good example. If I’m going to the wedding, and some friends are going to the wedding, I can fly us there and we can share the fuel costs. The flight is “incidental” to the real purpose of the trip—the wedding—since we’d all be going anyway by some other means. But if I’m flying to a convention and my friends are going to a wedding, we can’t share the costs, even though we all happen to be going to the same city.

It might not be entirely fair, efficient, or whatever, but like it or not those are the rules, and they’re covered pretty clearly in your training.

On an unrelated note, I wish that a different word was chosen in the headline instead of “amateur”. I understand the intent (I assume) of distinguishing a “professional” pilot who flies for a living from a pilot who does not, but “amateur” has additional (negative) connotations as well. “Private pilot” is generally the proper term when the distinction is necessary.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nothing new, but it probably SHOULD BE!

“I wish that a different word was chosen in the headline instead of “amateur”

This is an interesting comment, as it highlights what is certainly a cultural difference between us. In my world, “amateur” doesn’t have any negative connotations. In fact, it has positive ones. Amateurs do some of the best, and most of the really innovative, work that is done.

Anonymous Coward says:

No, it isn’t intent, or skill level. The FAA, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the commercial airline industry, is objecting because the airlines see it as revenue lost. This sort of ride-sharing has been going on since the Wright Brothers era.

These idiots decided to make a commercial enterprise out of it, waving it under the FAA and Airline’s noses. What did they expect? They do, or certainly should know the FAA regs concerning commercial operations. They should have limited it to word-of-mouth, doing favors for fellow pilots, and not blow it all over the world. DUMB!

Zonker says:

According to the FAA then, every time someone posts one of those ads on a college campus to share a ride for gas money to a concert or the airport or whatever is now commercial use, not expense-sharing, and thus requires a commercial taxi license. After all, it’s too dangerous for college students to share rides with other college students traveling to and from the same destinations rather than hire a legally licensed stranger from the taxi company or for each student to drive the same trip separately. Think that’s proper regulation or a nanny state?

So when is expense-sharing actually considered expense-sharing by the FAA? When they don’t know about it because you didn’t solicit it in front of them? Or just as long as it isn’t done “on the internet”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Travel cost

For a 1200 mile trip, one way, in a car, with you driving, the cost of gasoline at 20MPG would be about $231 US. double that for a round trip to $462, plus oil, maintenance, food, and motel costs. Airline cost, per person, round trip (Delta 2 week notice), is $462.30. The only advantages over driving are no TSA and a four hour trip, not 24 hours, and lower incidental costs. If you have to rent transportation, that adds, of course, but someone usually picks me up.

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