Uber but for Planes

Apr 13 2018

If you are one of the roughly 2.5 million travelers who fly in the US on any given day, you know how integral flying can be for business, connecting with family and friends, and appreciating our great country. You also likely know how commercial flights can be expensive, time consuming, and stressful.

Now imagine you could pull up an app on your phone which could connect you to a private pilot who is flying to your desired destination and is willing to fly you there. The cost? Splitting part of the flying costs with the pilot.

This kind of tool already exists in Europe, and it may become a widespread reality for travelers in the United States very soon. But first, the apps have to get past the regulators. In this case, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and its subjective rulemaking.

Flight-sharing of this kind has existed for years. Pilots would post on physical airport bulletin boards allowing any willing participant to jump on their flight and split costs. Companies like Flytenow and Airpooler saw a better way to advertise these flight opportunities and essentially put airplane bulletin boards online and on apps – including information about the pilot’s flight history and certifications, so people know who they’re hopping on board with.

But when these companies tried to get the greenlight from the FAA, they were shut down. According to the FAA interpretation of their 1986 advisory circular, the fact that the app allowed private pilots to list their flights more broadly meant they were no longer private pilots and instead needed to be certified as ‘common carriers,’ a classification that holds many more regulations. They also began reassessing what was and was not considered ‘compensation’ under the advisory and if more broadly advertised cost-sharing flights violated that as well.

To be clear, nothing about the flights themselves changed; they still had the same safety checks guidelines that applied when the flights were shared via bulletin board. But because FAA bureaucrats had interpreted an ambiguous 30-year old regulation, an innovation that could open the skies and drive down costs was shut down.

This ambiguity is why I’ve introduced the Aviation Empowerment Act. The bill would clearly define many of the key terms in the circular, especially those used in the ‘common carrier’ definition. It would allow private pilots to advertise their flights in whatever way they deem appropriate. These fixes would not only open the door to flight-sharing apps, it would also ensure that any future interpretation of ‘common carrier’ would be subject to formal regulation procedures before it could take effect.

Additionally, it creates a new categorization of pilot that would allow private pilots to profit from flying under certain circumstances, not just receive compensation for fees and expenses.

The changes in this bill allow for innovation and competition in the aviation industry. Because it makes no changes to safety guidelines and certifications, it does so without endangering pilots or passengers.

And that means if you are one of the 2.5 million people who fly in the US every day, you will have more safe, cost-effective options to choose from as you fly across this great country.