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.”