A new private pilot I met last summer told me he couldn’t wait to earn his commercial pilot certificate so he could start using his Cessna 172 as an air taxi. Hold on, I said, it’s not as simple as that.
It’s no fun being a bearer of bad news, but this fellow needed to be disabused of a common notion that all you need is a commercial pilot ticket and an aircraft to start hauling people around the sky for money.
Rules have exceptions, which may be tempting some pilots to buy into misconceptions about what is allowed. That has gone from a problem to a trend, the FAA believes, now that ride-sharing apps and internet marketplaces are venturing into the aviation space, offering ways to fill up empty seats in light aircraft purportedly to beat the cost of short-hop airline flights.
To head off more trouble, the FAA recently released an advisory circular, AC 61-142, that spells out how pilots can share certain flying expenses with passengers—and how to avoid crossing the forbidden line into unauthorized for-hire air transportation.
The baseline regulatory concept to grasp as a private pilot (and to be able to explain to a designated pilot examiner) is that “no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.”
If your goal is to fly charters for income, a commercial pilot certificate is the next step—but it’s not the last. Also required is to be employed by an outfit that holds an FAA-issued operating authorization. Such a company must conduct additional training and testing of company pilots as prescribed in the company’s FAA-approved “op specs,” or operating specifications. The aircraft, too, are subject to strict maintenance regimes.
All this may seem like a hitch in a pilot’s dream of flying for fun and profit—but I speak from experience in telling you that becoming a qualified charter pilot remains a dream worth reaching for.