Flight Sharing Battle Continues

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Former online flight sharing service Flytenow says that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is standing in the way of flight sharing by opposing a Senate bill introduced in April by Senator Mike Lee of Utah. According to both AOPA and Flytenow, representatives from AOPA, NATA and NBAA held a conference call with Flytenow earlier this week to discuss the organizations’ opposition to the Aviation Empowerment Act (S. 2650).

If passed, the Aviation Empowerment Act would redefine the term “compensation” to exclude “flights in which the pilot and passengers share aircraft operating expenses or the pilot receives any benefit” and introduce a “personal operator” category for pilots with at least a private certificate operating aircraft with eight or fewer seats. Flytenow cites European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) oversight of online flight sharing services in Europe as an example of how similar operations could be safely regulated and conducted in the U.S.

“For pilots, [flight sharing is] a crucial method of financing a passion for flying, and for passengers, it's an alternative way to reach a destination or experience flying in a private plane,” Flytenow said in a statement released on Wednesday. “To be clear, this is not ‘Uber for the skies’ and there is no profit opportunity, rather, it’s pilots splitting the fuel costs with their passengers.” So far, the FAA has disagreed, holding that flight sharing app services like those once offered by Flytenow count as “common carriage.” Flytenow contested that interpretation in court, where judges found in favor of the FAA. The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, upholding the lower court ruling.

AOPA says the concept of online flight sharing isn’t the reason for its opposition to the Aviation Empowerment Act, pointing to section 516 of the FAA Reauthorization bill (H.R. 4), which the organization says would allow flight sharing to move forward. Section 516 would require the FAA to conduct a study and issue clearer guidance on flight sharing, including a review of the rationale for flight sharing policy and related concerns. AOPA, NBAA and many other industry organizations voiced support for H.R. 4, which was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“AOPA has always supported cost sharing for flights with others who have a common purpose and we have no issues with how pilots communicate,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We simply believe in order to facilitate this endeavor, especially given the recent court cases and legal interpretations on this matter, we must do this in a deliberate and safe manner […] with pilot and aircraft standards in place to properly manage risk. If, however, that risk is not managed, the reaction and ramifications could do real harm to general aviation.”

Comments (13)

"If, however, that risk is not managed, the reaction and ramifications could do real harm to general aviation."

That is the main reason I an opposed to these cost-sharing services. They're more than just flying with some friends or acquaintances and splitting costs; it really is "holding out to the public". In just witnessing what many pilots were doing on the Oshkosh Fiske arrival, or a busy day at KBID, there are a lot of pilots out there that I fear will make very poor decisions because they don't want to disappoint their...cost-sharing passenger. Just one fatal crash from a flight cost sharing service available to the public will likely put the final set of nails in the coffin for light GA.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 9, 2018 7:44 AM    Report this comment

It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to foresee "ride pilots" having their performance rated on the web.

How often did the pilot get you there on time? How often did the pilot cancel, or divert the flight, due to weather or mechanical issues - possibly above the heated protests of their "riders"? Social media, Yelp, and word of mouth will influence the decision making process of at least some ride sharing pilots.

Let's wait and see how this works out in Europe.

Posted by: kim hunter | August 9, 2018 1:27 PM    Report this comment

I'm opposed to ALL cost-sharing schemes, unless everyone on board is a rated pilot.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | August 9, 2018 4:26 PM    Report this comment

I ran into this "Ride Sharing is Prohibited" silliness back when I was in college in the late 70's.

Back then, when I had even less money than I do now but still wanted to fly as much as possible, I posted notices on the college's Ride Board, offering to fly people on short day trips wherever they wanted to go. (Within my limits.) I even ran a cute ad in the school newspaper.

Apparently a Part 135 operator felt threatened by me and my rented 152. 'Cause I got a call from the FAA.

The FAA guy said that I was running an unauthorized Part 135 Operation.

I didn't know what Part 135 was back then. (I'm an ATP now and know now.) Nor did I need to know. I told him I wasn't operating under Part 135, but rather Part 91. (Which at the time, arguably allowed us to share expenses.)

The FAA guy's argument was backward - that, since I was holding out to the public, I must be running a Part 135 Operation.

That makes no sense on its face.

On its face, an unauthorized Part 135 Op would be someone who had gone to the FAA for permission to operate under 135 and got a 135 Operating Cert, but failed to keep their Cert current. (Perhaps by not maintaining aircraft properly, or not doing a W&B for every flight.) But as I said, I wasn't operating under 135. I was operating under Part 91.

While it might sound at first that I was "holding out to the public," the important distinction is that I was not holding out "for hire."

I don't recall how Part 91 was worded at the time. But my sense is that it implied that you could share expenses (up to the last dollar) but weren't allowed to make money.) And that sense was consistent with the stated policy of another federal agency. (con't)

Posted by: Mike P | August 10, 2018 12:01 AM    Report this comment

... The FCC says that, as an Amateur Radio Operator, I am allowed to accept money (say, to pay for my expenses if I am asked to provide Communication services at a parade). But I am not allowed to be doing it for money. Specifically, I am not allowed to have a "pecuniary interest" as an amateur radio operator. (See CFR 97.3(a)(4).)

Both the FAA and the FCC say that I can't make a profit as a private operator. And I accept that.

In my case in college, I was splitting the rental of the plane 50/50. Clearly not making a profit. It was still costing me to fly. Just not as much.

Nowadays the FAA - and, sadly, a Court of Appeals, has gone too far and changed the "rules," claiming now that I'm not even allowed to share expenses.

As for the safety issue of private pilots "holding out" to the public to carry passengers: While I agree that many private pilots might not be as safe as a Commercial Part 135 Operator (OTOH, private pilots don't have bosses and deadlines breathing down their backs), that is not in view here. (Even tho the COA wrongly cited it.)

Public safety would be in view if I had been carrying passengers for a living. In that case, the FAA has the mandate to ensure the (paying) public's safety, when money is exchanged for services provided.

As such, this is simply overreach by the FAA and the Courts (Surprise.) As such, Senator Lee's Bill, reigning in the FAA, is the proper remedy.

P.S. When I learned about the Flytenow lawsuit, I contacted one of the lead attorneys. We were in agreement on all the above nuances of Part 135 Ops. (I thought it odd, tho, that they tried to make it a First Amendment issue.)

Posted by: Mike P | August 10, 2018 12:02 AM    Report this comment

"I thought it odd, tho, that they tried to make it a First Amendment issue"

If I happen to show up at the airport at 3:00, and a friend of mine just so happens to show up at the same time, I tell my friend "I'm going to XYZ". My friend says "hey can I come along, I'll pay 1/2?" Then that's perfectly OK.

If I post a note of the FBO's bulliten board that reads "Tomorrow at 3:45, I'm headed to XYZ" and the next day my friend shows up at 3:00 and offers to pay 1/2, then according to the current ruling, that's "holding out".

What if you posted that note Facebook? What if you posted that note on the Flytenow website? That's where the First Amendment argument takes issue.

As the rule stands, any pre-trip communication in which the cost of the flight is split, is forbidden.

Posted by: Robert Ore | August 10, 2018 10:03 AM    Report this comment

As it was explained to me decades ago, you could share expenses incurred on a trip that you were going to take anyways, but you couldn't create a trip simply for the purpose of sharing expenses, and thus, deriving "a benefit" from the operation. "Benefits" included the acquisition of loggable flight time.

Perhaps the Agency's position has become more "nuanced" with the passage of time.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | August 10, 2018 1:51 PM    Report this comment

Speaking as a both a pilot and as a safety engineer, AOPA's line of reasoning doesn't hold water. By their logic, pilots should not be permitted to fly with friends and family they do know, unless they upgrade their skills/hours to some undefined additional standard.

All other things being equal (flight times and conditions, passenger weight, etc.) the risk of transporting a known person from point A to B is precisely the same as transporting a stranger. AOPA does not cite any analysis of the risks of internet flight sharing even though an analysis of European internet-facilitated flight sharing risk is readily available. I assume that AOPA has not performed such an any analysis since they did not cite such. If so, AOPA's position is emotional (unsubstantiated fear), not logical.

That being said, I agree that a safety standard is warranted. Fortunately, there already is one, one that's been in use by numerous "Angel Flight" type organizations for decades. They all require approximately 250 hours PIC, currency of pilot and aircraft, and appropriate insurance. As far as I can tell (I could not find definitive stats), angel flight organizations's safety record on par with GA as a whole. Surely, if these organization's safety performance is good enough to allow them to fly perfect strangers to receive medical treatment, it's good enough for the willing stranger who wants to fly for reasons of their own.

Since safety is significantly enhanced when pilots fly a sufficient number of hours to stay sharp, not just current, this simple reasonable standard, especially if it embraced by insurers, can solve two common and related problems: insufficient hours flown/per pilot/per year due to high costs per hour flown.

Posted by: David Kruger | August 12, 2018 2:19 PM    Report this comment

The difference with Angel Flight and other similar organizations is that they don't even allow for cost sharing. They're purely voluntary flights.

And there is a difference between flying with people you know (or at least other pilots) compared to people you know nothing about. Even from a risk point of view, the pilot is more likely to know what to expect from their passengers if they know them than if they're flying with some stranger.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 13, 2018 8:03 AM    Report this comment

"And there is a difference between flying with people you know (or at least other pilots) compared to people you know nothing about"

Simply remarkable how well Uber has done so well, transporting strangers from point A to point B.

Just how well would one have to "know" someone, and how is that articulated in the FAR/CFR?

If I knew someone from the 5th grade, would that suffice? How about if I knew them from work?

What if I knew them from work, but they brought their wife along in which I have only known for the last 5 minutes?

Speaking of which, how well does one know their wife of 2 years vs someone whos been married for 20 years? How long would you have to be married before you could legally take your wife flying? Would it depend on the length of courtship?

Posted by: Robert Ore | August 13, 2018 2:55 PM    Report this comment

"Simply remarkable how well Uber has done so well"

You also don't get loss-of-control stall/spin accidents or flying in weather beyond the capabilities of the driver or car in the same way you do with airplanes. And driving is a rather common thing where most people know what kind of risk they're taking. Ask most non-pilots about what risks are involved with flying and they'll usually give an answer that isn't in keeping with reality.

It still comes down to holding out to the general non-flying public versus other pilots or personal acquaintances. Rightly so, there's a higher threshold for holding out to the general public because if I'm a paying passenger, there's a certain level of safety that I expect. And that's what these flight-sharing programs really are: on-demand commercial flights, but without all the regulatory protections that 135 and 121 passengers are used to.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 13, 2018 4:12 PM    Report this comment

"versus other pilots or personal acquaintances"

Personal "acqaintances" is just as vauge as some one you "know".

If I post in a public forum "Hey I'm flying from A to B tommorrow". Someone responds "Hey this is Bob from A, Id like to go with you". Congradualations. I am now "acquanted" with Bob.

Posted by: Robert Ore | August 15, 2018 8:20 AM    Report this comment

Further, just how in the world do most young eagle flights end safely?

Do you suspect that the pilots "know" and are "aquanted" with each person they take up for a flight?

Posted by: Robert Ore | August 15, 2018 8:31 AM    Report this comment

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