In a closely watched case that should put to an end the discussion about the formation of “Uber services for the skies,” a Washington, D.C. appeals court ruled against flight-sharing website Flytenow.com on December 18, finding that the site does indeed violate FAA regulations that prohibit private pilots from advertising for shared flights in exchange for flight expenses.
FAR Part 61.113 allows private pilots to share the “pro rata” expenses of a flight for things like fuel, oil, tiedown space or aircraft rental fees, provided the passengers and pilot have a “common purpose” for the trip. That part of the regulation is actually quite broad. For example, you could offer to fly friends to a baseball game in New York if you happened to be attending a wedding there and the FAA would have no problem with your passengers paying a portion of the your flying expenses.
What the FAA will not allow, and what the court agreed with in its ruling, is advertising to the general public through a website like Flytenow or competitor AirPooler for such flights. Even posting to a bulletin board at a local airport is a gray area that could get you in hot water with the FAA for “holding out” to the public for commercial air service.
Flytenow argued that its website was private and therefore did not violate FAA regulations. The court ruled that the entry barrier for the site, i.e. simply signing up at Flytenow.com and searching for available flights, was too low.
But what if you wanted to advertise a flight among a small group of friends or associates about an upcoming trip to, say, AirVenture in Oshkosh? That would be OK, according to the FAA and the court.
“Pilots communicating to defined and limited groups remain free to invite passengers for common purpose expense-sharing flights,” the judge wrote in the decision.
Likewise, e-mails between friends, the court noted, “seem unlikely to be deemed ‘holding out’ under the FAA’s interpretation.”
Once you open up your offer to just anyone, that’s where you start running afoul of the regs apparently.