AOPA Misrepresents Flight-Sharing

Let us be clear, AOPA is blocking flight-sharing. 

Answer the Question, AOPA.

AOPA claims to “have no issues with how pilots communicate” yet they directly contradict themselves by opposing the Aviation Empowerment Act which addresses a pilot’s freedom to communicate, and nothing more.  

The question remains, why does AOPA oppose the *revised* Aviation Empowerment Act?

Exact, complete, and FAA-revised bipartisan Aviation Empowerment Act below:


The Administrator shall permit a person who holds a pilot certificate to communicate with the public, in any manner the person determines appropriate, to facilitate an aircraft flight for which the pilot and passengers share aircraft operating expenses in accordance with section 61.113(c) of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulation) without requiring a certificate under part 119 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulation).

That’s it. A clear, concise, and FAA-revised bill to make it clear that pilots can communicate publicly online to share costs. The same way we do offline on bulletin boards today.

Pilots Are Against Uber of the Skies. So Are We.

Flight-sharing gets incorrectly labeled as ‘Uber of the skies’ by non-aviators. Open communication to share flights does not create a public transportation. 

Here’s the problem with the situation today. Depending on how you meet someone, your flight-share could be legal or illegal.

Legal flight-sharing: Pilot A posts a flight to a physical bulletin board. Passenger B sees the post, calls the pilot, they go flying and each pay 50% of the costs.

Illegal flight-sharing (until bill passes): Pilot A posts a flight publicly online. Passenger B sees the post, messages the pilot, they go flying and each pay 50% of the costs.

Same plane.
Same pilot.
Same passenger.
Same cost share.
Same insurance.
Same medical certificate.
Same operation.
Same flight.

They just met differently. 

Nevertheless, AOPA suggests that the few words of our bill auto-establish ‘Uber-like companies’. That must be a misunderstanding. Is AOPA really suggesting that a pilot splitting fuel costs with friends, family, or their local residents is the same as a massive for-profit transportation provider, like Uber, American Airlines, or Delta? 

That opinion cannot possibly be supported by the largest General Aviation representative. 

“Specific risks in terms of safety… do not appear to exist” 

-European Aviation Safety Agency  

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) agrees that public communication does not impact safety. When embracing “Web Based Cost-Sharing Flights”, the EASA concluded:

Specific risks in terms of safety related to the fact that passengers are contacted through a web platform, as opposed to the aeroclub, family and friends, or in a local pub do not appear to exist for the majority view (except France). 

AOPA’s House Bill is Not a Flight-Sharing Bill

AOPA claims that section 516 of the House-passed FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4) allows flight sharing to move “forward”. That is false.

Section 516 “Requires the Secretary to issue advisory guidance on web-based cost sharing within the parameters of existing federal law." Existing federal law is that online communication is illegal. 

Without a change to the law, the AOPA-backed house bill will reinforce existing restrictions on online flight-sharing.

AOPA told us earlier this week: "Our members don't care about this issue." We need to set the record straight.

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26 responses
This may be a safety/insurance issue. Neither the FAA nor AOPA want to be held liable for pilot error. If the language of your proposal is changed to include "a person who holds a commercial pilot certificate with appropriate category and class ratings" shall be permitted......., perhaps consideration will be given to the change.
Fighting the AOPA is certainly not a good look for this outfit. The AOPA is an ally for GA pilots, and asking people to cancel their membership and lose valuable services is absolutely ridiculous. Using Flytenow absolutely constitutes holding out. It is a slippery slope both with regard to safety and legality.
I do not claim to know all about Flytenow, and I do think there needs to be some new flexibility in this area of regulation, but I am confident that AOPA has the knowledge and expertise to fully evaluate such matters, and they have done an excellent job of supporting the little guys. I am proud of my 25-year membership certificate.
You claim that: Legal flight-sharing: Pilot A posts a flight to a physical bulletin board. Passenger B sees the post, calls the pilot, they go flying and each pay 50% of the costs. Except, see FAA Safety Briefing Nov/Dec '16, title "Why Can’t I Uber with My Airplane?": The sole purpose of the flight cannot be to simply transport your passengers. If you do, it would be considered holding out as a common carrier, which is explained in Advisory Circular 120-12A, ... Holding out can be as simple as posting a notice on a publically accessible community bulletin board or as blatant as advertising your flight through a ridesharing app for private pilots." Page 29 Can you back up with quantitative evidence that your legal flight sharing as you've written it, is truly legal?
I see the AOPA’s position. Wait until there is an accident, and the victims family or surviving passenger explains the flight in question was solicited via something similar to Uber or Lyft. Then what? There will be reprocussions for all of us.
The real question is this- is the pilot going to a destination of his choosing regardless of whether there is a passenger or not or will the pilot only go to a destination chosen by the psssenger? One is legal the other is not. This would end up being a stain on general aviation safety record.
Tom B. If there are no passengers, there is no issue. But I get your point. On paper, there are clear lines of what is legit or not, but in life, those lines are interpreted by other people. Its not that either side has or doesn't have a legit position, its that some activities invite problems that wouldn't ordinarily be an issue. If I am at the airport and going to the Bahamas and ANOTHER PILOT wants or needs a ride to the same destination, we may strike a deal on splitting costs and flying time. Or 2 pilots agree to split time and expenses to a fly in, etc. If I post it online, it invites the "hey honey, this guy is going to the Bahamas and has 2 empty seats, wanna go? 1/2 off! Understand, that we all pay the price, not just the victims in the accident airplane or violated pilot. The issues that will arrive will affect us all. Soon, flying will be so expensive, that very few can afford it, or are we already there? Keep it safe, keep it smart, keep it viable.
Flytenow is a for-profit effort. If this was about no-cost/no-gain efforts to link pilots with passengers for rides related to shared interests in accordance with the regs, then great. But let’s be honest: Flytenow is looking to profit while the pilots take all of the risk. /A pilot who gives fellow pilots rides regularly - in accordance with the regs
So - how does FlyteNow intend to make money if the pilots are not allowed to profit financially, and all the passengers pay is their pro-rated share?
Peter From what I understood of the model (and what seems to be on the web still) is that passengers would pay Flytenow, including a fee. Pilots get reimbursed by Flytenow for the passenger’s half of the operating expenses. From a pilot’s point of view I personally don’t want a lot of scrutiny or focus on this whole area. It’s already confusing as it is. For example, I’ve donated flights to charities for auctions and, in talking with the FAA, it’s OK to take off, tour a city, and land at the same airport. But to offer to fly the bidder to a place for lunch and then return them is considered at least by some as “transportation”. And since the charity “profited” from that the FAA is less supportive of it. But I know exactly that happens a lot elsewhere. Flytenow is doing this for profit, which is fine so long as it doesn’t have unintended negative consequences.
To fly someone on demand is charter, and it is illegal, unless you are approved by the FAA, such as 135, or 121 operator. As the holder of a commercial pilot certificate, and upon approval by the FAA, and being granted an LOA, one can have a scenic tour business, but limited to 25 mile radius. Thats it. The FAR's are quite descriptive and clear.
General aviation ride-sharing services are a non-starter not so much because of legislation as because of the simple statistics of the matter. Flying and riding in small airplanes is about as safe as riding motorcycles. And like riding motorcycles, it is subject to both subjective risks you can control and objective risks you can't. And until we see Uber or Lyft offering rides on motorcycles, I think we can safely conclude that the general public finds these risks unpalatable.
Really? You think I could hold out (i.e., offer rides in my plane), even with the FAA's approval and my insurance wouldn't change? There is a reason that you need a commercial license to offer for-hire rides to the public. People who pay for transportation expect professional expertise and service. I applaud the AOPA's stance.
AOPA is supposed to promote aviation and encourage new pilots. You don't think have the general public experience general aviation would be a benefit and perhaps encourage many more people to take flight lessons? If you want general aviation to continue to be perceived as the playground of the rich, then the current AOPA position will keep the general public away. The nay sayers seems to forget the pilot still has considerable expenses, even if he finds someone to ride with him or her.
For AOPA to oppose flight sharing because of "safety concerns" is surprising because the subtle message is that GA pilots and aircraft owners are unsafe and should not be trusted to carry any passengers. The whole purpose for the FAA certification of aircraft and airmen is to ensure that a pilot can safely fly aircraft and carry passengers. For AOPA to take this position is a slap in the face of its members and indictment of the general aviation community!
I believe flight sharing should be allowed, and unfettered.
Posting to Facebook is similar to the post to a bulletin board in the bathroom at the local FBO. Posting to a commercial site purpose built for flight sharing is closer to holding out.
Wow. Flytenow has stirred up a hornets nest of opinion on this subject. AOPA promotes efforts to lure rusty pilots and others to their airport. I am one of those pilots and I applaud any effort to promote flying. I think AOPA should be promoting this sharing of costs under the present regs. I agree that the flight for both parties should be to their same place. AOPA provides flight planning and other services on their website. Why not have a listing of available shared expense flights as well? I live in their Memphis area and I can imagine many scenarios such as football games, NASCAR, the beach, New Orleans, Nashville, as possible venues where an empty seat may exist. A $100 burger flight could be listed as a $50 burger flight. As for safety considerations, as an experienced pilot I could determine if it was a safe operation, and if not - decline the flight. For a non-pilot, schedule a local flight and take along a trusted pilot friend that could evaluate the operation. It could open up flying for those that cannot afford rental costs or ownership. It may offer an opportunity to experience dreamed of aircraft. Maybe a T6, T34, Stearman, Bonanza, SR22. This kind of shared flight has many more pluses than minuses. AOPA should get behind this and make it work. Provide a checklist or some guidelines to help get an AOPA member back into their cockpit.
Based on my understanding of the issue, I have to take Flytenow's position. Clarifying and clearly legalizing using social media for communications should be a no brainer by now. As far as "Uber in the Sky", so what. I see this as a good thing. It has the potential to promote more GA flying, provides a convenient service for those who want it and would help subsidize expenses for pilots who participate. I don't follow the safety concerns as all. Aren't GA pilots properly trained and licensed? I would encourage that safe practices be developed for "Uber-like" pilots and passengers, but preventing it is counter to AOPA's mission , in my view.
So in addition to the “holding out” to the public issue, plus the “cost sharing” issue, the other thing that determines cost sharing versus revenue service is “common purpose”. The snippet you provided doesn’t say anything about whether pilots who communicate with the public to share flights must also still have common purpose, i.e. was the pilot going somewhere already or is s/he making the flight solely to take someone from the public somewhere they would otherwise not have gone? I share a lot of AOPA’s qualms. I don’t think you really want the significantly less regulated (and older!) GA pilot population all suddenly able to take people places. Seems like a recipe for disaster for the rest of us when someone screws the pooch with children on board or whatever. I would much rather retain what personal freedom I have left to fly myself than be able to get a few Uber-like payments now and have it all go up in a puff of someone’s smoke later. So I think the issue is more nuanced than you present. I will also state, for the record, I’m not real comfortable with Uber, where they are essentially running a cab service while people who made effort and investment to comply with laws and legally become a cab are basically having an end run done around that investment contrary to public regulation. To the extent we agree, it is that debating and changing public policy through a public process is the right way so that people are not trying to compete on completely different terms. So I applaud you for going to Congress to have that debate - even though you seem to have come to it reluctantly - and hope that if it comes to pass, then charter companies, for example, can also share similarly in a less regulated environment if that is the will of the public. While I don’t really have a dog in the fight other than my own interest in personal aviation, I also think some basic principle of fairness needs to apply, and “innovation” is a different thing than “ignoring regulations I don’t like” when others make significant effort to comply with them. You suggest that posting a card on a bulletin board is legal and posting online is illegal, and that’s the only thing you want to change. I don’t believe the premise that posting a card on a physical bulletin board is legal. It’s just harder to enforce against. And I also don’t buy that you don’t want to turn into Uber....
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