Should airplane ride-sharing be legal?

Flying article.

Two companies, Flytenow and AirPoole, allowed pilots and passengers to hook up online. The pilot’s cost of getting to where he’s going is reduced, and the passenger’s contribution might (or might not) be lower than an airline ticket – and he might save time as well. Cost-sharing is allowed under FAA regulations. Each occupant, including the pilot, pays an equal share of the actual cost of the flight. It used to be less stringent than that. I took ground school at a community college, and the instructor (who happened to be a dean at the college) said that when he started flying he’d get three friends to go on a ski trip. He’d pay a dollar, and the others would pay the rest. You can’t do that anymore. The pilot pays his fair share.

The FAA says the companies are violating the rules. What the FAA determined is this: If you arrange to fly your dentist’s cousin (to use the author’s example) to some destination you’re going to anyway, and you share the cost of the flight, then that’s perfectly legal. But if you do the same thing with the aid of a website, it isn’t.

Me too. Let’s say I want to go down to Portland over the weekend. It’s a couple of hours in a light plane from here, or a five- or six-hour drive. Or more, if the traffic is particularly bad. Me? I’m flying! There are probably people here who are also going to Portland, but they’re driving. There’s no way I’d know if there were, and they wouldn’t know I have empty seats. If I’m going to Portland anyway, why not fill the empty seats and save some money? Why not save another person or two some time and inconvenience?

The obvious answer is that such a system would be pretty easy to abuse. Pilots could say they’re going to a particular place, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and operate de facto charter flights. They could do that now, and still be ‘legal’ under the rules. The only difference is that a website makes it easier. But remember that it still costs the pilot money. What charter company would stay in business if they charged 50%, 66%, or 75% of what it costs them to operate (and that excludes maintenance, insurance, and so forth) and had to pay 50%, 33%, or 25% of the cost of the flights?

Flying is expensive. I agree with Robert Goyer that pilots should be able to defray the money they’re paying by filling empty seats when they can.

I think it goes against the spirit of cost sharing.

This is all IMO and it could be that cost sharing was intended to be more broad than I think it should be, but I believe it was to allow people who already knew each other to travel in an aeroplane and share the cost of the flight. E.g., Bill, Bob, and Mary are friends. Bob has a PPL and they all decide they’d like to go for a trip somewhere together. They split the costs three ways. This is substantially different from a group of people who have no connection at all using an online service to hook up to get cheap airfares / cheap flying hours.

There is a big fat blurry line between a cost shared private flight and a charter but this case is firmly in charter territory.

It’s not so much that you run a de facto charter company to make money, remember the goal of many young pilots is to gain hours. Gaining hours at 25% the going rate is as good as making money for a young pilot chasing hours. So there’s the motivation to do it. The problem with it from an FAA perspective is that there is no oversight of the pilot’s operation and it also takes work away from the legitimate charter companies.

Consider the FAA’s position if one of these flights ended in an accident. The passenger’s families will be looking for some answers and I don’t think they will be happy to find that the FAA turned a blind eye to it.


Never been a wavier that a person signs that can’t be broken in a court of law with a good lawyer & a really pissed off relative that won’t quit.

Or just be damn sure you die too. < VEG >

I’m not in the FAA or anything, but I think you answered your own question. As soon as the pilot starts collecting money from strangers using an organized system like a ride-sharing web site, you’re now in the business of flying people around and are a de facto commercial pilot (which has higher qualification requirements AFAIK).

Whether it’s a profitable business is largely irrelevant. I think the main issue is that commercial pilots have a particular standard. If it’s just you and your buddies flying with your pal whose a pilot, you probably have some idea of what level he is at and assume the risk yourself. For example, one of my coworkers is a pilot and frequently offers to take people up. But because he acts like a dumbass at work some of us joke that we might consider flying with him only in the event of a zombie apocalypse and we couldn’t escape the city by car, boat, rail or foot…or set up a place to hole up in the city…or fight our way out…or become a zombie ourselves.

Out of curiosity, who’s brave enough to take a flight in a small plane with a part-time pilot at the controls in order to save a few hours? I’d feel a little scared - isn’t general aviation more dangerous than driving cars?

Apparently so, by a small multiplier.

But in my mind, it’s still not a significant risk. Not if I know the pilot and the aircraft, and know both are well-maintained. (Pilot is current and well-trained, aircraft is well-cared-for by competent mechanics.)

Excessive fear of risk is a cripping disability.

Sure. I’d definitely do it if I were wanting to go somewhere unreachable by car, or if the amount of time saved was very large.

How is 9 times more fatalities per mile a “small multiplier”, by the way? What would you consider to be a “large multiplier”. That’s an order of magnitude of difference - probably comparable to riding a motorcycle instead of a car.

How is this different, in any material respect, from a college student with a car putting up a notice on the bulletin board in the student union, offering a ride to someplace during the holidays? What particular characteristic of airplane travel puts this into a different perspective that does not apply to an automobile?

The regulatory agency involved has a lot more power.

Because I can have the driver pull over and get out of the car if I don’t like the way he’s driving!

I understand the FAA’s concern about someone being a de facto Part 135 operation. But I see a difference in that an air taxi operator is in it for profit, and a private pilot is just filling empty seats. My old ground school instructor would be violating the rules today, since he only paid a dollar for his flights. Someone ride-sharing today pays as much as his passengers. Richard Pearse is correct that paying less to build hours is ‘as good as making money’; but I still see a technical difference because he’s not actually flying for hire. Again, the only difference is that you’re flying complete strangers instead of friends. OTOH, a FOAF (or FOAFOAF) is a stranger as well. Why should it be legal to share expenses with your neighbour’s friend’s cousin’s friend, and not legal to share expenses with someone equally unknown?

Let me try to explain my viewpoint. AIUI the rule is that if you’re flying anyway, it’s OK for a passenger to pay up to an equal part of the cost. ‘You know? I think I’ll fly to Portland this weekend.’ ‘Really? I want to go to Portland. Take me with you, and I’ll pay half!’ But it’s not OK to fly for hire. ‘Hi, Mr. Pilot. I want to go to Portland. If you take me, I’ll pay half.’ ‘Sure, why not? I’m not doing anything this weekend.’ Or: ‘Say, does anybody want to go somewhere? I’m a pilot and I’ll take you for half the costs.’ In the first case, the pilot is already planning to fly. In the second case, he isn’t and the passenger is asking him to. In the third case the pilot doesn’t have a destination but wants to fly, so he’s looking for someone to ‘pay’ him to fly. The first case it legal, and the other two are not. When it comes to flying, I am a stickler for the rules. I earned my Private Pilot Certificate, and it’s very hard to stay in the game. I’m not going to anything to endanger it. If I do any ride-sharing, it will be by the book. I just don’t see the difference between taking my neighbour’s friend’s cousin’s friend for a ride, and finding a passenger online. In both cases I’m flying anyway, passengers or not.

As for the dumbass boss… I’m a complete nutter; a total lunatic. On the ground. (Full disclosure: Less so nowadays, since the SO won’t put up with my madness.) But in the air, it’s all business. (OK, a might say to a good friend, ‘You know? I could kill us both right now…’ But I’ve always taken care to make my passengers as comfortable as possible, and not do anything to frighten them.) Of course there’s a difference between being a jokester, and being a dumbass. But the boss might be a different person at the controls of an airplane.

You can ask. You can hope they agree.

And if not, just like in an airplane, you can bail out and hope for the best. At least in an airplane, they make escape devices that you could theoretically use. (But probably won’t have available.)

How strict is the security on these ride-sharing arrangements? If the pilots are making arrangements with strangers on a website, are they cross-checking with federal no-fly lists? Are they screening passengers and x-raying luggage? The passengers are not the only ones taking a risk when there is no pre-existing relationship between them and the pilot.

This seems like part of a larger conversation. Air BnB is testing if it’s okay to rent out a room to strangers. Various services are testing it it’s okay to act as an impromptu taxi. The laws that were out in place to control (and largely stamp out) the informal economy were not made with this level of connectivity in mind. In the meantime, the economic crisis is forcing us to rethink our take on the informal economy itself.

AirBnB theoretically exists to rent rooms to strangers - but every place I’ve stayed at under it were apartments basically 100% rented through it, in other words the functional equivalent of hotel rooms. Uber is advertising for drivers in SF, who are guaranteed a certain amount of money if they work a certain chunk of time. In no time a web based piloting system would be a commercial airline in all but name.

We have regulations for a reason. This is a great case of the regulations work, so people assume that things will work just as well if you bypass them.

And how should you treat the student that doesn’t take riders when going home, but who has a van and takes riders from college to the city every week on a regular schedule?

I’ve taken rides with people I know. But if you get hooked up to a pilot on a web site, what do you know about the pilot or the plane? Not much.

You are exactly right and I agree with the FAA. There are very good reasons that commercial pilots have more stringent requirements.

For me, it makes a big difference if I know how to fly the particular aircraft and am big enough to force the original pilot to quit being stupid or it becomes obvious he knows how to take off but not to land.
I don’t ride with a lot of pilots, some with more time & rating than I have. Many PHD’s have no common sense. Same with pilots. Some still get through the cracks to have many hours because of luck, circumstance of never needing to be very good, like thousands of hours in the right seat but little actual handling the aircraft. Airlines work pretty had now days to prevent this by having the pilots swap for every leg.

Anyway, I make a very bad passenger in a small plane, much more if I am not in a front seat.

Flying with paying or partial paying guest is always risky & if anything goes wrong, you are usually going to lose big time. IMO, not worth the gamble even if they are good friends.

I have taken many people up and some helped with the gas if it was a vacation But I am always uncomfortable doing so because of the bad outcomes I have seen over the years.

I have had dealings with the FAA over the years. Known some really good guys. But if I was breaking the smallest rule, they are very vindictive, mean, unreasonable, don’t care about how innocent the infraction, I have always been in a world of hurt. I think a lot of it was due to the fact that I was trying to make a living flying so they were holding me to a higher standard. I have no problems with them now as I don’t fly for a living anymore (old) and post 9-11, IMO, the new regs and attitude is one of the factors of the decline in pvt aviation.

Biggest point: It is a bureaucracy & it takes much more $$$ and horse power that I will ever have to get them to do something reasonable for general aviation.

IMO of course.

It might help to know what the rule actually says Johnny, do you have a link?

There has always been a big grey area in cost sharing and carrying a FOAFOAF is very grey, but a complete stranger that you know only through a website designed for the purpose is beyond grey, it’s way over the line.

To me cost sharing is designed to prevent the ridiculous situation where Pilot Bloggs has to foot the entire bill for taking Mum and Dad Bloggs flying, it is not designed to allow complete strangers to sidestep commercial transport companies.