Flytenow Takes FAA to Court over Ride-sharing Program

 - January 6, 2015, 4:06 PM

Web-based Flytenow is suing the FAA for essentially halting its general aviation flight-sharing program. The Goldwater Institute filed the lawsuit January 5 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on behalf of Flytenow, asserting that the FAA is “stifling innovation” and preventing pilots from using the Internet to communicate travel plans.

The FAA, which is not commenting on the lawsuit, issued legal opinions last summer finding that Flytenow’s program and a similar program operated by AirPooler were commercial activities and that participants would need Part 119 certificates. 

Flytenow started a year ago as a way to connect pilots with potential riders to share the expenses of the flights. Founder Matt Voska told AIN that he launched the program to help pilots defray the costs of their flights. The programs were designed to draw new people to aviation while helping offset costs and enabling pilots to stay current.

But FAA inspectors began warning pilots that their participation might be unauthorized, prompting both Flytenow and AirPooler to seek the interpretations. Following the interpretations, Flytenow maintained the website linking pilots with riders but eliminated the expense-sharing component. Without expense sharing, Voska said, “it hasn’t been successful.”

“The FAA has essentially said that sharing flight expenses by posting a flyer on an airport bulletin board is OK, but sharing expenses by posting travel plans on the Internet is not,” said Jon Riches, an attorney at the Goldwater Institute.

The lawsuit argues that for decades the FAA recognized the rights of pilots and passengers to share flight expenses and connect through a variety of platforms.

“Flytenow has effectively created an online bulletin board to facilitate the genuine sharing of expenses between pilots and passengers who have a demonstrated common purpose in a flight,” the lawsuit says, adding that the FAA’s interpretations that participants are engaged in common carriage “upend more than four decades of established legal precedent.”  

The lawsuit argues the interpretation violates First Amendment rights by restricting pilots’ ability to communicate travel plans through the Internet. It also contends that the FAA has violated the equal protection and due process rights.

The Goldwater Institute is hoping to convince the agency to update its regulations. “All we’re asking is for the FAA to bring its regulations in line with the times so that new ideas in the aviation industry can take off,” Riches said.