Court Decides That Flight-sharing Websites Are Illegal

 - December 22, 2015, 2:42 PM
Flytenow is one of several ride-sharing operations that existed for pilots and the general public to coordinate trips to reduce costs. The company has ceased operations; the fate of similar services remains in doubt.

Flight-sharing website Flytenow has closed. A U.S. Court of Appeals denied Flytenow’s petition for a review that sought to counter an FAA letter of interpretation finding Flytenow’s type of flight-sharing illegal. 

Flytenow created a website where pilots could post upcoming planned flights, and members of the public could coordinate with pilots to join them on those flights and share expenses. Flytenow would retain a portion of the shared expenses payment. Another company called AirPooler offered similar services. 

Although sharing of expenses has long been allowed by FAA regulations, Flytenow sought a legal opinion from the FAA as to the legality of its service, as did AirPooler. The FAA issued its interpretation in letters to both Flytenow and AirPooler on Aug. 13 and 14, 2014. Essentially, the FAA claimed that because it had to carve out an exception allowing expense sharing by private pilots to the rules requiring a commercial pilot certificate for carrying passengers for compensation or hire, “the issue of compensation is not in doubt.” The FAA also noted that a Part 119 certificate would also be required “for each person operating or intending to operate civil aircraft as an air carrier, commercial operator…”

According to Flytenow, its service simplified the process of word of mouth, telephone or posting notes on bulletin boards about sharing expenses on upcoming flights. “This is a huge blow to innovation and entrepreneurship in general aviation,” said Jon Riches, the national litigation director at the Goldwater Institute and the attorney representing Flytenow. “Courts give extreme deference to regulatory agencies, often at the expense of innovation,” he said. “In this decision, the court relied on that regulatory deference, and the result is less choice for consumers, and less innovation in general aviation.” 

Flytenow and AirPooler aren’t the only such flight-sharing websites, and it is not clear whether the FAA plans to attempt to close sites such as Skypool, Pilot Share the Ride and others. According to Flytenow, “The Goldwater Institute is reviewing the opinion for possible rehearing options and the possibility to petition the Supreme Court to hear the case.” There is also a bill in Congress that would make flight-sharing websites legal. H.R. 3593 was introduced by Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and would require the FAA to issue new regulations “to ensure that a person who holds a private pilot certificate may communicate with the public, in any manner the person determines appropriate, to facilitate a covered flight.” The bill has been referred to the House subcommittee on aviation.