Though the idea seems new, flight sharing has been around for decades–even dating back to the 1960s, when pilots posted their trips on bulletin boards at local airports. Today, many private pilots split fuel costs when taking trips with family, friends, and co-workers. This type of flight sharing is referred to as “common purpose.” These practices clearly were never meant for private pilots to “hold out” to the public for hire and compensation.
In 2014, website startups like AirPooler and rival Flytenow were quickly grounded by the FAA. The agency concluded that private pilots participating in these types of websites required a Part 119 certificate because they were engaged in common carriage, which means pilots would be holding out with a willingness to transport persons or property from place to place for compensation or hire. Flytenow subsequently took the FAA to court and lost its case. The agency believed these flight-share companies were bypassing commercial safety, training, and aircraft maintenance requirements since their intention was clearly to carry passengers for hire.
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) has also rejected the Aviation Empowerment Act being pushed by Flytenow in Congress, arguing that the model presents serious safety and security concerns. According to NATA, if an accident were to occur, Flytenow would bear no liability (but individual pilots might). The model also creates a potential situation whereby the Transportation Security Administration may see a need to increase security regulation of general aviation pilots and airports, a move which could adversely affect all GA pilots.
AOPA and aviation associations across the United States have worked collaboratively with Congress, NATA, NBAA, and others on compromise language included in the House-passed FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 4), which would require the FAA to place safety parameters around flight sharing for compensation and hire so these web-based companies can move forward.
“This provision received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Earlier this week, teams from AOPA, NATA, and NBAA held a conference call with Flytenow executives where again we reiterated our support for the concept of flight sharing. We remain hopeful that Flytenow will work with the industry and the FAA to see their concept of public transportation brought to fruition safely and responsibly,” Baker said.