The Federal Aviation Administration are formally in discussions on whether amateur pilots may use websites and apps to trade extra seats on flights they have planned, in exchange for fuel money. The law states that amateur pilots are not allowed to profit from flying passengers, but multiple startups, such as like Flytenow, have set up private plane ride sharing sites.
One of these startups, AirPooler, has submitted an official request for legal interpretation. This is to make clear the current grey area surrounding the issue. Airpooler confirms the FAA is expected to make a decision within the traditional 120-day window. Until then, AirPooler has ceased listing flights on their website.
The attorney for AirPooler, Rebecca MacPherson, was the former FAA assistant chief counsel, so she has some insight into the out workings of the matter. She said, “This is an issue that the FAA is very uncomfortable with because they’re worried about abuses. They’re looking at what restraints they could put on the response to make sure there’s a minimum number of bad actors in the marketplace.” The FAA has prohibited Private pilots from acting like a taxi service over concern for safety. Commercial pilots must hold to stricter “common carriage” safety standards.
Flying is expensive though. The fuel needed for a short flight to improve a pilot’s skills, for example, may cost hundreds of dollars. This is the reason why the FAA permits amateur pilots to find passengers and have them pay a maximum of their pro-rata share of the fuel, oil, airport expenditures, and rental fees. To stop pilots just setting up a flight to meeting the demand of passengers, the FAA states that pilots have to be planning to take the flight whether or not they get any additional passengers.
If the FAA vote a favourable decision for plane-sharing, Macpherson has predicted three significant caveats;
1) Flights that are listed with open seats have to actually be flown; this is regardless of whether or not passengers sign up. If someone repeatedly sets up flights and then proceeds to cancel them due to lack of interest, the FAA will chase them.
2) Pilots will not be able to set up an unlimited number of flights. Listing too many flights will warrant an investigation by the FAA.
3) Commercial private plane pilots will not be able to this use this system during their off-hours, as the compensation from plane sharing cannot go to people who earn profits already from flying.
The law gave rise to start-ups like AirPooler and Flytenow, which want to make flying affordable for the pilots, whilst giving other passengers a fun yet reasonably priced way to travel, that also cuts down on total carbon emissions.
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