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Calls Grow for FAA to Loosen “Flight-Sharing Services” Restrictions After ATL Debacle

So far, the federal regulators have resisted the idea of letting private pilots utilize ride-sharing apps similar to Lyft or Uber, but some analysts say the FAA is improperly interrupting existing rules.

This week, thousands of air travelers at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and across the western hemisphere found their holiday travel plans disrupted by a fire and power blackout at the world’s busiest airport. Now, some are calling on the FAA to soften the rules in order to help passengers get to their destinations at times when commercial aviation grinds to a near standstill.

Christopher Koopman, Director of the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, writes that there is a little known option for passengers stranded due to all-too-frequent computer glitches or minor catastrophes like the recent events at ATL. In his December 20th op-ed for The Hill, he points out that marooned flyers have always had the option of hitching a ride with a private pilot. Unfortunately, Koopman explains, this generally involves knowing a pilot or having access to handwritten notes posted on a bulletin board in the back corner of an office at a fixed-base operator (FBO).

“The biggest problem is actually finding these pilots,” Koopman writes. “Historically, these flights were arranged by pilots posting the time and destination of their pre-planned flights on airport bulletin boards. However, this makes it difficult to efficiently connect pilots with passengers. Companies like Flytenow saw an opportunity to make connections much easier by enabling pilots to post their flights on the internet.”

The FAA, however, wasted little time ordering sites such as Flytenow and AirPooler to cease and desist. While a rising chorus of voices, such as Koopman’s, believe the agency is stuck in the past and unable to grasp that the internet is simply an updated version of a bulletin board, the FAA says that posting and organizing flights online crosses the line between ride-sharing and operating as a “common carrier.”

“A carrier becomes a common carrier when it ‘holds itself out’ to the public, or to a segment of the public, as willing to furnish transportation within the limits of its facilities to any person who wants it,” the FAA said in an opinion that put a stop (in nearly all cases) to any such flight-sharing apps. “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.”

The FAA may have other less bureaucratic sounding reasons for resisting calls to relax its position on flight-sharing services. Earthbound ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber have arguably morphed into something closer to under-regulated taxi companies than a service connecting people who wish to carpool – regulators have some obvious reasons for not wanting that sort of situation to occur at airports and airfields across the US.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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southpac March 1, 2018

FAA need someone like Trumps pilot running the show. Private pilots aren't going to turn into airlines overnight, but could help in all too common computer reservation glitches.

December 24, 2017

I agree with FAA. Once you start to offer air service to public you are u see the scrutiny of FAA rules. What we need is the flying cars in future that flies too low to be caught by FAA rules a d anyone can drive.