The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has dissected the FAA’s freshly enunciated guidance on cost sharing by passengers in private aircraft and reported to Congress that there are a variety of opinions on that policy. The report, submitted last week, doesn’t reach any conclusions or make any recommendations. In fact, the title of the report (Stakeholders Expressed Mixed Views of FAA Policies on Private Pilot Expense Sharing) sums up all 28 pages of the report. The report resulted from a line in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill that mandated the FAA publish a clarification of its policies on allowing passengers to chip in for flight-related costs, and who is eligible to pay their fair share of those costs. The bill also said the GAO should review that clarification.
The FAA released an advisory circular in 2020 that gave examples of who can pay for what and how much but it didn’t change any of its long-held policies that draw the line between private and commercial aviation. However, it modernized that stand by clearly saying that internet ride sharing services were against its policies designed to keep the distinction between pleasure flights and “common carriage” of passengers. It pressed the point by saying that putting a notice on a flying club bulletin board is permitted but posting the same notice on the internet is “holding out” and in the same league as advertising in a newspaper. It also said those footing part of the fuel bill had to be friends and relatives of the pilot and have a purpose for going on the flight other than sightseeing.
To drill down on the FAA’s guidance, the GAO assembled 15 “stakeholders,” four of them representing companies that have tried to establish Internet-based ride sharing services and been ordered to shut them down, seven of them representing aviation organizations and four from flying clubs. Although there was some overlap among the stakeholders on a variety of issues, the big one (Internet ride sharing) produced an 8-7 split supporting the 2020 FAA policy. “Seven of 15 stakeholders we interviewed, including each of the four representatives from expense-sharing companies and two of the four representatives of flying clubs, said that FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find expense-sharing passengers,” the report said.