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FAA Bans Ride-Sharing for Private Pilots

By John Blosser   |   Friday, 15 Aug 2014 05:00 PM

Suppose you know of a private pilot who's planning a flight to somewhere you want to go, and offers to take you along if you split the costs — that's OK, right?

Not according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which issued a ruling in an Aug. 13 letter that bans the practice on the grounds that a ride-sharing pilot, in effect, is operating as a commercial pilot and requires additional licensing, which mandates more training, more FAA inspections and many more regulations, according to Insurance Journal. 

Until recently, pilots looking to save money on a flight might post a notice on a bulletin board at the local airport offering to take along passengers to share the costs of gasoline and landing fees, but the Internet has made possible the rapid growth of ride-sharing websites like Flytenow and AirPooler Inc., whose letter to the FAA requesting clarification of the rules kicked off the ban.

The FAA letter stated, "In your request for legal interpretation, you maintain that the AirPooler service is not a commercial operation and does not involve common carriage because there is no compensation of the pilots. We disagree." 

AirPooler's website typically connects passengers hoping to save money over commercial fares with pilots looking to save money by sharing a ride and splitting the costs.

"We're confident that what we're doing is legitimate," AirPooler's CEO and co-founder Steve Lewis told TechCrunch. 

However, while other companies in the "sharing economy" like Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft with on-demand car service, and Airbnb with apartment rentals, are thriving businesses, the FAA ban may spell the end for companies like AirPooler.

"There's a really deep underlying economic basis" for AirPooler, Lewis insisted to Insurance Journal. "It's much more than a fad for the shared economy because you have all these assets around [private airplanes] that are being underutilized."

The company is going to ask the FAA to reconsider the decision and, if necessary, is considering testing the decision in court.

Rebecca McPherson, an attorney representing AirPooler, told Insurance Journal, "You're not going to make any money doing this. All you're going to do is defray some of your costs, which the FAA has said is OK in the past.

"The only thing that is different is you're using social media."

Lewis told TechCrunch, "While the FAA's decision is confusing, it's also stalling the opportunity for private enterprise and government to work together to foster innovation in the sharing economy. It's a big disappointment for hundreds of thousands of pilots and for everyday travelers. Pilots, who have always loved to ride-share but found it difficult to arrange, were looking forward to taking advantage of modern sharing technology to offer seats as a way of defraying costs."

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