FAA Modernizes Guidance On Flight Expense Sharing


The FAA has updated guidance on expense sharing for private flights with an advisory circular that adds modern context to the 30-year-old rule. AC 61-142 was published at the end of February and is in response to the 2018 FAA reauthorization, which required the FAA to issue clearer guidance on flight sharing. Although not a legal document in its own right, the AC provides detailed guidance to pilots operating private flights (those not under an operating certificate) on the narrow circumstances in which they may accept money from passengers to cover flight expenses and how they may communicate the proposed flight on the internet. 

Essentially, pilots have to have a “common purpose” with passengers who are part of their family or social circle in order to get gas money for a trip. Anything beyond that is considered “common carriage” and requires an operating certificate from the FAA. To satisfy the common purpose part of the equation, the destination has to be the pilot’s idea and he or she has to have legitimate business in going there. He or she can’t offer to act as the pilot to take passengers to a destination of their choice even if just to build time. 

Also, the notification that the pilot is operating a flight must be limited to a “defined and limited group comprised of people with whom he or she has an ongoing, pre-existing relationship (e.g., family friends or close acquaintances)” according to the AC. In the social media context, such an invitation could be distributed to closed group of which the pilot is an active member but not generally distributed. Advertising the availability of flights on websites or through email would also amount to “holding out” those flights as being generally available and therefore make expense sharing illegal.

Once all those requirements have been met, the AC reminds pilots of just how few direct expenses can actually be recovered. They can only be compensated on a pro rata basis for fuel, oil, airport expenditures and aircraft rental fees. Maintenance, insurance and other expenses that are not a direct result of the trip itself, and even some that are, cannot be part of the equation. For instance, if oxygen is used on the flight, passengers can’t pay their share because the 30-year-old rule doesn’t specifically allow it.

All this originated when the FAA shut down a web-based flight sharing service called Flytenow several years ago. Flytenow lost a subsequent lawsuit and appeal. It tried to take its case that its website operated as no more than an electronic bulletin board all the way to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2017. In 2018, a proposed bill would have allowed flight sharing but that was opposed by AOPA. Flytenow stressed that there was no profit motive in putting pilots and passengers together and that similar services operate successfully in Europe.

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    • Actually, the AC specifically says a cork bulletin board “may be acceptable, as long as it targets a limited and defined audience”. The example it gives as likely being ok is a posting on an FBO’s bulletin board.

  1. I don’t know why all this cannot be simpler. Seems to me the problem is they need a line in the end that says the FAA can, upon examining the facts, decide not to enforce the rules if it does not appear there is an attempt to either make a profit or gain other value such as flight experience or notoriety or whatever.
    I don’t know what I don’t know but it seems a tough a hard thing to capture in rules. So, they are making lots of rules that ought not be enforceable on their own, but only as proof someone is running an unapproved operation. But then you get the organization out looking for who is paying the fuel bills rather than looking for guys running shady charters.
    The IRS is the king of this. They have arcane rules meant to be flags for catching real cheats and crooks that have taken on their own lives and now are catching small businesses that aren’t doing anything wrong. The agents then say they have to enforce because “that’s the rules”.
    Somebody needs to stop this stuff. It leads to deaths. Citizens have a duty to raise up against tyranny. Non violently at first. (Looking at you Iran, China, NK…)

  2. Our company was generous enough to include private aircraft when paying IRS mileage for business trips by POV, so covering approved expenses for a 4-person flight was never a problem. I was always happy to “eat” the unapproved expense as payment for the joy of some cheap time in the air.

    I do agree the gray area of affirmatively seeking out passengers to a common destination is hard to deal with. We have done a number of shared expense flights such as to resorts in Baja over the years and all were legitimate “common purpose/interest” where everyone was socially related and stayed (partied?) at the same spot. While all were arranged through informal social contact, would they have been any worse had we arranged them via a “I’m going” post to co-workers on the office bulletin board? Or at a small airport where virtually everyone knows each other?

  3. This poses almost as many questions as it answers.

    A careful reading of the AC repeatedly references “Private Pilots”–but does ALSO references “exercising Private Pilot privileges.” Does the fact that I have an ATP, but also fly personally for fun, affect my ability to share expenses with passengers?

    “Common purpose with passengers who are part of their family or social circle”. I fly a King Air as a corporate pilot. For 30+ years, my employers and I have had an arrangement–I can fly the airplane for my own use for simply the direct operating cost–fuel, navigation, landing and customs fees, hangar, etc.–but nothing for the aircraft. In addition to my own domestic trips, (about a dozen a year), I go to Canada a lot–hunting and fishing. I live in a SMALL CITY, and take friends with me–we all split the expenses. Over the years, some have dropped out–moved–or died. We–as a group–have found people known to members of the original group to replace them. Since I do not have an ” ongoing, pre-existing relationship (e.g., family friends or close acquaintances)” with the “New Guy” on the fishing trip (but the rest of the group does), can we bring him along? Or do I need to make sure I “interact” with him for an unspecified period of time before the trip?

    Both Canadian and U.S. Customs routinely ask “how do you all know each other?” It has never been a problem for Customs. (but then, Customs is NOT the FAA–they hardly acknowledge each other.)

    The group (including me) shares the cost of the hunting or fishing trip–the food, lodge, boats, guide. Is this sufficient “common purpose?”

    Reverting to my corporate pilot role–the owner of the King Air is very generous in the use of the airplane–he lets almost any charitable organization use it–sometimes for free–sometimes for the cost of the fuel (and no charge for me). I have no idea what the relationship of each passenger is to the company–only the charitable organization. I don’t even see the internal accounting. Do I have to have a company employee along to insure that it is “common purpose”–and that the others are either going for free or sharing direct operating costs?

    Oddly enough, it would be easier for all of us to rent the local Baron for the trip and have me fly that instead–we can then qualify the entire cost through the rental rate on the aircraft–as opposed to Direct Operating Costs Only for the King Air. That may make it legal, but is it as safe?

    “There aren’t enough words in the English Language to cover every scenario”–but that doesn’t keep the FAA from trying.