FAA Bans Planesharing Startups

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There will be no “ZimRide for airplanes”, according to an FAA ruling released today that prohibits private pilots from publicly offering seats on their planes in exchange for gas money, including via startups like AirPooler and Flytenow. The decision strikes a blow to the sharing economy, and comes in response to AirPooler formally requesting a clarification of the gray area it was operating in. Banning this form of planesharing (like ridesharing for aircraft) could keep people safe by preventing them from hopping in with rookie pilots. However, it will also make it more expensive for pilots to fly since they can’t share costs, reduce travel options for passengers, and kill off an entire category of startups.

AirPooler plans to ask for a clarification of the ruling, as it’s based on an unofficial draft for a 1963 proposal for planesharing, rather than the 1964 regulation that said pilots can privately ask if passengers want to join them and split costs if pilots paid their pro-rata share, we’re already planning the flight, and met some other restrictions.

Until now, the practice was often organized through word of mouth or bulletin boards at airfields but that will now be illegal. The new FAA ruling deems any kind of cost-sharing as compensation for the private pilots, whether they use old school means or a website to list their seats. It’s currently illegal to compensate private pilots unless they get a tough-to-attain certificate from the government to operate as an air carrier. Many private pilots lack this license so listing open seats on sites like AirPooler and Flytenow or via other low-tech methods for flights they planned to take won’t be permitted.

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The core part of the ruling from the FAA states “We conclude that, with regard to pilots using the AirPooler website, all four elements of common carriage are present. By posting specific flights to the AirPooler website, a pilot participating in the
AirPooler service would be holding out to transport persons or property from place to place for compensation or hire. Although the pilots participating in the AirPooler website have chosen the destination, they are holding out to the public to transport
passengers for compensation in the form of a reduction of the operating expenses, they would have paid for the flight.”

AirPooler CEO Steve Lewis writes to me in response that “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.”

Though there’s a slim chance AirPooler could get the ruling reversed on a technicality, for now there shall be no ridesharing in the sky.