Clarifying the charitable flying exemption

Only three organizations can fully reimburse pilots’ fuel costs

November 23, 2010

Are you eligible for full reimbursement of your fuel costs when acting as a volunteer pilot on charitable flights?

The answer is that only those pilots who fly for three specific organizations that have been granted written exemption, and who have complied with extensive safety and training requirements spelled out in a revised FAA notification letter, are eligible for full reimbursement of fuel costs.

All other volunteer pilots and organizations without specific written exemption must still comply with the so-called pro-rata rule given in FAR 61.113 (c). It states that “a private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.”

The three organizations that received exemption in February 2010 from the pro-rata rule are Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic, Airlift of Hope America, and Mercy Medical Airlift.  They applied for the exemption in June 2009.

“Any other organization seeking to reimburse pilots must obtain its own exemption letter from the FAA before doing so,” cautioned the Air Care Alliance in a Nov. 10 memo to public benefit flying organizations.

When approving the specific exemption applications, the FAA commended the organizations for their humanitarian activities and expressed support for the volunteerism and public service it represented.  

On Oct. 8, the FAA wrote to the chief executives of the three organizations to clarify and revise the exemption’s requirements. The 10-page letter detailed an extensive set of enhanced safety requirements and operating procedures for the organizations and the eligible pilots.

Each of the three exempted organizations is required to have in place “a structured and documented pilot registration process” with a renewal requirement. That process must also ensure that pilots are registered and trained before conducting charitable flights, including a means to verify registration before flying.

Pilots must possess an instrument rating appropriate to the aircraft flown; meet extensive minimum hours, recency of experience, and other requirements; and have a second class medical certificate.

Additional conditions of the exemption include flight duty, rest time, and flight-time limitations.

An extensive, detailed training program and recurrent training were also detailed in the letter from FAA Acting Flight Standards Service Director Raymond Towles. The letter states that the exemption (Exemption No. 10009) will terminate on Oct. 31, 2012.