Question of the Month

What do you think about the FAA's Ruling on Planesharing companies like AirPooler?

Josh Bower posted on the AOPA Flying Club Network Facebook Page that the “FAA rules that planesharing using startups like AirPooler to split costs of flights qualifies as compensation to private pilots, which is prohibited unless they have a government air carrier license.”

His post generated an interesting and informative dialogue about FAA regulations relating to common carriage and commercial flight activity. Here’s a sampling of some of the responses: [Editor's note: Responses have been edited for space.]

Sanjay Castelino:‬‬ Completely support the FAA in this one; I think the intent of the services is not like my old fashioned college ride sharing boards, but rather to create an uber for aircraft. If it is the latter then it clearly is a commercial operation.
James Craig:‬‬ It seems wrong to deny usage such as that, but on the other hand, as a former Part 135 pilot, this protects the legitimate charter operator---which, because of regulations, will cost considerably more than the illegitimate flight.

Michael Vanderweide:‬‬ I agree with the FAA on this one. By offering seats to the general public on the internet, it is clearly common carriage. I don't know how you could argue otherwise. Uncommon carriage doesn't require an operating cert because the assumption is that someone who has a close (uncommon) relationship with you either already knows, or has plenty of opportunity to ask, your level of pilot qualifications and how you operate/maintain your aircraft. The common carriage rule is there to protect the non-aviation passenger transport consumers who do not have this opportunity and thus expect when they purchase (and yes, they are purchasing in this case) publicly offered transport on an aircraft, that it is being operated at a higher level of safety than some part 91 amateur who has no safety plan, who hasn't inspected his aircraft in almost year, and who just got his PPL yesterday.
Fractional programs get around some (not all) of this because their passengers/owners have to sign agreements that they are in operational control of the aircraft they are using, thus making them responsible for the safe operation of the flight. They still have to have an operating plan and use at least one ATP rated pilot who goes through initial and recurrent training. As for private pilots profiting, where the abuse could come in in this case is that some newly minted PPL pilot trying to build hours offers up a bunch of seats to popular destinations even though he/she had no personal, non-aviation reason to fly to that location. By getting to log that time at a fraction of what they would pay otherwise, the flights are clearly "profitable" to them and thus the sole purpose of the trip is for the profit of the pilot. If your main intent is to profit from a flight, you need to get your commercial or ATP rating (and pay taxes). 
Again, the non-aviation general public has an expectation that when they pay for a publicly offered flight, their pilot meets more than just the basic requirements of a private license. Without a way to ensure the passenger knows the operating level of the aircraft or that the pilot is only minimally qualified, the public is at risk of the flight falling way short of their expectation. Thus the rules. But imagine if fresh PPL pilots could transport the general paying public in part 91 operated, only annually inspected aircraft that are only insured for personal use. The public transport accident rate would go way up and the public would loose faith in the safety of the transport they publicly purchase. That would be bad for all of us. Plus you (and AirPooler) would get your pants sued off if you ever had a crash. And your insurance wouldn't cover it. No way is this a good idea.

Nowell Outlaw-Mccullough‬‬: Airpooler is an interesting concept - of course, the FAA doesn't want this to happen. There are probably hundreds of pt-91 flights done per day where a plane is dry leased for the flight, etc that are all comp for hire- not 135 flights either. Try Florida for starters.

‪Michael Vanderweide:‬‬ Nowell, all of those legal part 91 dry lease flights are done by companies that employ their own pilots or hire pilot companies. Those pilots, unless they are directly employed by the passenger company and their aviation work is secondary to their other employment at that company, are at least commercial rated. Those companies dry lease (without a pilot) the plane; sign that they have operational control and understand what that means; and the lessor and the pilot pay taxes on their income. And neither the lessor nor the pilot are advertising transportation to the general public. Entirely different than what AirPooler is offering

‪David G Bitts:‬‬ Now hold on a tic...., if I understand it correctly, is nothing more than an uninterested third party website that allows aircraft owners/pilots to post open seat(s) on their airplanes going to a certain place. If that's all it is, and the pilot/owner is sharing pro-rata costs with all other occupants, how can that be any different than me, say, in my C182 posting on someplace like AOPA forums, or just hanging out at the airport, offering to take someone to wherever as long as all occupants share the costs equally

Bob Buchner:‬‬ David, you can read the full ruling above [in the original Facebook post], but a private pilot cannot post flights to the public for transporting people or property and receive compensation even if its in the form of reduced or shared expenses
Ginny Stromberg:‬‬ It's called holding out... if you advertise you are going somewhere to the public (and will to take any ol hitchhiker)... you are engaging in common carriage regardless of whether you get paid for it. Private pilots can't legally do that.

Bob Buchner‬‬: Common carriage and holding out is described by the FAA at this link. ‪

‪Michael Vanderweide:‬‬ If you went on this forum and asked if someone wanted to split costs with you going to Airventure next year, the FAA most likely wouldn't say anything because you were going anyway, and the people on this forum are more than capable of assessing the safety of flying with you. Same with flying clubs that go places together and split costs.

Airpooler is clearly offering flights to the general public, many of whom are not knowledgeable enough to assess the safety of a pilot or aircraft, and has no way of determining if trips that are posted are incidental to what the pilot does for a living. 

‪Jeff Towe‬‬: I’m wondering how this type of activity is any different than when we were back in college and someone offered a ride to Fla for spring break to "share the cost" … I understand the part where a pilot might not have a reason to fly someplace but say someone was flying to an airshow in say a 206 and has 3 open seats and some other folks around the FBO wanted to go .... can they throw in some cash to cover the fuel and operating cost .... true this may minimize the cost to the aircraft owner and may be considered " income" since he's getting his cost reduced for the sortie but I don't see it as a profit ..... thoughts?

Bob Buchner:‬‬ I don't think there would be much problem if a pilot planned to take a trip to an air show or aopa event or fun in the sun and decided to ask around at their airport base or post in the pilot lounge or even on a local aviation forum or in a nearby flight school or within a flying club community. That is much different than offering transport to a large segment of the general public

‪David G Bitts:‬‬ Bob, that's what I was getting at in my earlier post. "Hey, I'm going to such and such place, anyone need a ride and split the costs?" Seems like that isn't violating any FAR to me.

‪Rich Dugger:‬‬ IMHO this is the FAA dabbling in something they shouldn't. They have real issues before them that they won't even reply to but they spend man hours and money on this. Ridiculous.  And this is just my opinion.

Bob Buchner:‬‬ Rich if you talk to your neighbor about going on a hunting or fishing trip, then you are okay to fly them. If you start posting flights to the public and random people respond, regardless of who you eventually accept, your flight is common carriage. Is that short enough? The FAA is vital in ensuring aviation safety for all. And it's good they offer legal opinions to those who ask.
Rich Dugger:‬‬ But if, in front of ten people, in the airport lobby, where several us meet for coffee every Sat. morning, walking back from the coffee pot, I say Anyone want a ride to Blakesburg, IA next Wed. or Thurs? I have an empty seat. That's ok?  I can't believe people are defending the FAA's stance on this. I give up.


Michael Vanderweide:‬‬ It's the same reason why the health department doesn't say anything when you collect a few bucks to share the costs of the hamburgers at a neighborhood cookout, but the minute you start trying to profit from cooking hamburgers or selling them to the general public, they want you to have a professional license and be inspected. Just like the FAA. … AirPooler is absolutely facilitating the selling of seats by mostly amateurs to the general public. I don't know how one could argue otherwise.
Jim Chambers:‬‬ When I became a commercial pilot, there was a real emphasis in the curriculum on knowing the difference between part 91, 135, & 121. The one thing that the FAA really wants newly minted commercial pilots to know is that they can't now go down to the local flight school and put up a sign in the restaurant that says "charter flights available, please call...###", and then use a flight school plane to conduct the flight. There is no difference between commercial pilot vs private pilot, you need an operators certificate, and to follow those requirements. Being a commercial pilot gives you no more clout than private. 
Beaux Graham‬‬: What annoys me is the FAA assumes we all have criminal intent in our hearts. Given the paper trail that AirPooler will leave, the FAA should just do what it always does: Make an object lesson out of the ones that abuse the service and leave those of us that follow the rules alone.

Nowell Outlaw-Mccullough‬‬: Easy way to fix this- just get the insurance companies involved. My insurance (pt 91) is $6k/year. Put the plane on 135 and it's $18k/year - so if you are really getting paid you should probably have correct insurance etc... Airpooler is a nice concept but I don't think many people would really want to do it.

Topics: Flying Club, Aviation Industry, Flight School

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