Regulations Are Written In Blood: Why Planesharing Is Grounded For Now

August 7th, 2014 by Rod Rakic


planesharing is grounded until further notice

In aviation, we say that “regulations are written in blood.” Pilots often complain about regulations, but they generally recognize that those regulations are often based on experience and events that have cost others their property, their lives, or both. We know that the legal environment of aviation often lags behind reality. Technical innovations can make older regulations obsolete. But sometimes the innovation doesn’t change the relevance of the regulations or dilute the blood in which they are written.

Planesharing Explained

Laws should serve as a safety net, not a noose. Aircraft are expensive to own and operate. Now, more than ever, making aircraft more useful and ubiquitous is critical for the survival of aviation. Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, VBRO, GetAround, and BoatBound make it easy to put substantial assets like cars, boats, and homes to work. There is no federal statute that makes renting out your spare bedroom generally illegal.

“Planesharing” tries to apply the same model to private air travel. Planesharing is the concept of pilots use services on the Internet to post details of their upcoming flights in the hopes that potential passengers will find the flight information, join the pilots on their flights, and split the cost of the flight with them.

Startups like Flytenow, AirPooler, ShareMySky, AiirShare, Pro Rata Share, Wingman, and others have developed business models around facilitating planesharing. Venture capital should not be seen as some kind of signal that startups can ignore the rules the rest of us have to live by.

Pilots have been legally sharing the costs of privately operated flights for decades, but purpose-built online apps like these have made this kind of sharing more like commercial flying.

How Private and Commercial Flying are Different

It is sometimes said that the most dangerous part of a flight is the drive to the airport. That’s true, but only if you’re flying with a commercial operation. Airline (Part 121) and charter (Part 135) flying is something like 500 times safer than operations conducted by private pilots (generally conducted under Part 91). There’s good reason for this. Airlines and charter operators have to achieve rigorous certification of their aircraft, facilities, operations, and pilots and maintain that certification through constant monitoring, training, and investment. If you look at the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) in printed form, the requirements take up about an inch of thickness and that’s just the regulations themselves. Aircraft inspections happen at least every 100 hours of operating time. Operating specifications, maintenance records, pilot manuals, maintenance manuals, dispatcher manuals, and other necessary paperwork fills many linear feet of shelf space. Pilot experience could be as low as 250 or so hours, but most pilots flying for commercial operations have thousands.

Private operations, (under Part 91) on the other hand, don’t have to do as much. They’re subject to maybe a half inch of regulations and a few operating manuals. Private pilots might have as little as 50 hours of flight time. A mechanic may only be required to even touch the aircraft once a year.

It’s reasonable to accept more risk when flying with a private individual vs. a commercial operator. Flying a helicopter in combat has a lower accident rate than flying single piston engine airplanes. Remember folks, flying isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it is terribly unforgiving.

The Regulations and How Planesharing Gets Pilots In Trouble

This difference is the basis for the different FAA regulations for commercial and private operations. The regulation that applies to private pilots (FAR 61.133) says that “no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.” That same regulation goes on to say that “a private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.”

Planesharing depends on the “pro rata share” part of the regulation. As long as a private pilot operating under Part 91 collects only part of the money for the flight, he or she is in the clear, right? But let’s be honest. Privately this easy, and only when you start fishing about for people we have no prior relationship with do any of these new apps make anything easier. Blurring the lines between private and commercial flying is a problem. The confusion is in the uninitiated passenger believing that he or she is getting the commercial level of safety when the pilot is operating under the much more permissive rules of Part 91.

So the FAA typically applies a two-part litmus test.

1. Is the pilot “holding out” the service to the public? Put another way: How much does an operation look like an airline or charter service? FAA Advisory Circular AC-120-42 says that one becomes “a common carrier [i.e., an operation that requires the more rigorous certification] when it holds itself out or to a segment of the public as willing to furnish transportation within the limits of its facilities to any person who wants it.” What does a planesharing pilot do? Lists his or her flight and invites anyone with money to come sit in one of the other seats, right? Short of the person being overweight for the aircraft or being disagreeable in some way, a planesharing pilot is offering to furnish transportation to all comers.

2. Do the pilot and the passenger(s) have “common purpose” for the flight? The regulations (and all FAA guidance and rulings to date) clearly contemplate friends or family loading into a Cessna 172 and flying somewhere for dinner or sightseeing. The FAA requires that everyone in the aircraft have something in common about the mission. Planesharing encourages passengers who have no preexisting relationship with the pilot (otherwise, why is an online service necessary for them to find each other?) and it is almost certain that the pilot and passengers will have different objectives once they arrive at the destination. What are the chances that perfect strangers will turn out to be heading to the same golf course, restaurant, or shopping district? Even local flights which start and end at the same airport, which the FAA regulates as sightseeing flights are regulated. Air tour pilots are required to keep within a limited distance from the airport, submit to more drug tests, and hold at least a commercial pilot certificate.

It is possible to engage in planesharing in a compliant way. You build a group of friends over time, say on Pilots of America or a similar message board. You all agree to meet at a regional airport and fly in Bob’s Cessna 206 down to Sun ‘N Fun in Florida in March for three days to see the airshow and drool on the latest aircraft. You split the cost when it’s all over. Great.

But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, does anyone really think that many planesharing flights would work this way? A majority of them? Fewer? Any? The FAA administrator and staff are reasonably intelligent. The FAA can identify a sham when the FAA sees a sham and so can we. We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that most flights under the planesharing model are not legal under the current regulations. The arguments made by these companies that the rules don’t apply to them just don’t hold water.

Could the FAA come up with a safe harbor under the rule? Sure. What would that look like? A demonstrable pre-existing relationship between the pilot and passengers of at least such-and-such a duration, supported by family relationship or documentary evidence like date-stamped e-mail correspondence? A requirement that pilot and passengers all do the same thing at the destination, supported by a file folder full of consecutively-numbered concert tickets or a guest check with the appropriate number of entrees?

At what point do the administrative costs outweigh the benefit of such a safe harbor? It’s complicated. Previous legal interpretations from the FAA like here and here make this clear as mud. Creating a safe harbor under current regulation would be really tough. We’ve got to balance personal choice with public expectations of safety.

Anyway, we’re going to find out soon.  At least AirPooler and FlyteNow have petitioned the FAA for an administrative ruling about the legality of planesharing. The FAA told the pilot community that it would rule by mid-June, but that deadline has come and gone while the FAA continues to think about the issue. In the meantime, good on AirPooler for recently advising pilots to hold off on listing flights pending the FAA’s ruling. My opinion doesn’t really count for much. The ball is in the FAA’s court. Enforcement actions are possible and even likely before the smoke clears.

Why So Serious?

If you’ve read this far, you might wonder why I’m disparaging a potentially helpful and cool new aspect of the sharing economy. I love innovation and new ideas as much as anyone. I have a dog in this fight. But it’s a different dog and I’ve defined the fight for what I believe is a better way.

For aviation, collaborative consumption isn’t anything new. We’ve been buying and leasing back airplanes to flight schools and flying clubs for decades. The rest of the world was just catching up with us. There’s still plenty of room for innovation in the business of aviation. Two of my favorite examples are ForeFlight and SurfAir. They’ve disrupted the experience, without ignoring the rules.

Regulation and innovation can coexist. My own example is OpenAirplane which tackles the problem that we can solve legally by making more aircraft accessible to more pilots. The idea is to make everyone’s pilot certificate more useful.

In a nutshell: It used to be that each airplane rental operation (and its insurance company) required that a pilot do a local checkout flight in the airplane before renting it. OpenAirplane standardized the checkout process and with support of insurance industry. Now, pilots go through a single annual checkout flight that tests their skills and verifies that they are as safe and competent as the FAA requires. The standards are pretty much the same ones that the FAA uses when initially certifying pilots and they’re evaluated by designated flight instructors who are familiar with the process. After that Universal Pilot Checkout, the pilot can rent the same kind(s) or airplane(s) at any participating facility (currently more than 60 across the US). It’s all completely legal.

While planesharing could expand the addressable market for our company, we’re not willing to put pilots at risk of violations or worse. OpenAirplane solves as much of the problem as we can solve without breaking the law. We put more pilots in more airplanes more often. We don’t do anything for non-pilot passengers yet, but only because – well – illegal.

But we still frequently get lumped in with planesharing operators when folks talk about developments in aircraft availability. We’re not a planesharing operation. And we don’t want to be unless he rules change. Planesharing can’t solve the problem that it claims to solve without a deregulation of private aviation or a big shift in FAA doctrine.

You Can’t Fool Newton and Bernoulli

The principles defined by Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli govern the safety of flight. They don’t care about social networks or online collaboration, no matter how innovative or cute. And mountains of evidence tell us that Newton and Bernoulli favor the better-maintained aircraft, better-trained pilots, and more comprehensive operating procedures that one finds almost exclusively in commercial operations. As long as the safety of passengers – or at least honesty with passengers about the wildly different risk profile that they face in an aircraft with the average a planesharing pilot – is the point, planesharing doesn’t work.

The FAA regulations allocate privileges to pilots based on a careful balancing of those privileges with the skills and experience that they have demonstrated. Planesharing, as currently conceived and practiced, encourages private pilots to operate de facto charter services or air carriers. It’s a bad idea. Unless the FAA reverses its position, planesharing remains grounded.

Rod Rakic

Rod Rakic is committed to making aviation work better. He’s the co-founder at OpenAirplane, which is dedicated to making flying safer and more useful. He’s a pioneer in creating interactive experiences for almost 20 years. Rod is a digital strategist, professional pilot, and a user-experience nerd with a mission.

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The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Alan Guichard

    Dear Mr. Rakic,

    This is an impassioned piece but regrettably lacks factual support, and does more to lump planesharing operators into a group of wrongdoers, rather than encourage meaningful debate on an important issue.

    As a self-proclaimed innovator with such an ardent opposition to planesharing, it is surprising to see you state, “And we don’t want to be [in planesharing] unless he [sic] rules change,” in light of the fact that you earlier acknowledge, “pilots have been legally sharing the costs of privately operated flights for decades.” Stating that planesharing is legal, and subsequently labeling it as illegal makes this piece particularly confusing, so I would like to clear up a few inconsistencies, while hopefully encouraging helpful debate.

    You are right in that regulation and innovation can and do coexist. Planesharing operates directly within the black letter law of the FAR’s and, contrary to your position, the FAA has never ruled on the issue so no “reversal” on their part is required. Because of the lack of a ruling on the matter however, there is some latitude on the interpretation of applicable FAR’s to planesharing. This is where a debate is warranted, and welcomed. This is also where I think your piece takes a real turn for the worse by labeling innovators as a “sham”, without providing a factual basis for your opinion.

    Your interpretation regarding “common purpose” as to when a pilot and passengers have different objectives once they arrive at the destination, is understood, but misguided. The FAA has been clear that “common purpose” between a pilot and a passenger need not be same. In fact, the FAA letter you cite ruled on this very question, finding that common purpose existed when the pilot flew to Long Island to attend a wedding, though his passengers only expressed interest in going to Long Island to attend a baseball game. That same ruling indicates, as a general rule, that there appears to be a bona fide common purpose when the pilot dictates the destination, not the passengers, and both the pilot and the passengers have personal business to conduct in the destination. This is exactly the type of interaction that most planesharing apps foster. I would also encourage you to look at the rulings in which the FAA found a violation of common purpose, as they are particularly egregious.

    No one can deny that safety is and should be an overriding concern. But which scenario is more favorable: A pilot who flies very infrequently because she’s grounded due to the costs, or a pilot who can fly more frequently and build upon her skills and knowledge by sharing the costs? Many would argue the latter is better for private aviation and would lower the inherent risk governed by the principles of Newton and Bernoulli.

    In summary, planesharing does exist at the intersection of regulation and innovation. The applicable FAA rulings to date have actually embraced interpretations that favor planesharing, as does the black letter law. Remember, pilots aren’t making money; rather, they are flying more often and sharing the joy of flight with people who often never had the ability nor resources to experience flying in a small plane. Many believe this is the catalyst that can reverse the downward trend in private aviation and invigorate the community.

    Alan Guichard
    Co-founder, Flytenow

    • Rod Rakic

      Hi Alan,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here. Note that I actually linked to your argument on Flytenow’s blog in the post above. But since your blog does not have commenting enabled, I welcome being able to have the conversation here.

      I wrote this piece because I keep having the same conversation over and over… which usually goes something like this…

      THEM: “Ooooh you’re that thing where anyone find airplanes to ride along on right?”

      US: “Ummm… no.” [facepalm]

      I spoke with your co-founder Matt and others at Oshkosh last week too. The planesharing startups who had booths at last week kept hearing the same thing…

      THEM: “Oooh you guys are growing fast! Over 60 airports! I’m Looking forward to flying with you!”

      PLANESHARING GUYS: “Ummm… no.”

      Like I wrote above, sharing costs privately like I explained above is legal. You could even call it planesharing. Planesharing as you are pitching it is not allowed. They are very different things.

      I quoted the regs, I quoted the AC, and linked to the interps. So yes, I did provide what I believe to be factual basis for my opinion. I also peer reviewed this piece with aviation industry experts and at least two attorneys who practice aviation law before posting it.

      I also specifically avoided lumping you in “into a group of wrongdoers,” because your pitch has the same tenor as folks who argue that, “Flying drones commercially is totally legit!” or “Requiring transponders is another way The Man is keeping us down!”

      I’m glad you took the time to post a rebuttal. Enabling conversations like this is why AOPA created this blog. If the FAA surprises most everyone I talk to, and proves me wrong, I hope I get to be the very first to post a retraction.

      You and I are going to have to agree to disagree until the FAA either puts a stop to the flavor of planeharing you’re offering, or they create a safe harbor in which planesharing as you’ve pitched it can be something we can all participate in.

      • Alan Guichard

        Hi Rod,

        I appreciate your response and we will have to agree to disagree. Seasoned aviation attorneys and FAA regulators differ on this issue as well. Indeed, the FAA’s former assistant chief counsel, Rebecca MacPherson, asserts planesharing is in compliance with the FAR’s.

        • AIRCAP

          The FAA’s counsel has not considered that your and your sister agencies are, indeed, advertising agencies contracted with by pilots for you, on their behalf, to hold out to the public. Your advertising agency puts both those pilots at risk of either having their insurance canceled or any claim refused for the illegal charter operation your service coerces them to fly.
          Even though this (hopefully) pops your bubble, I tell you this to warn you of the conspiratory position you put your company and yourself in by seeking and encouraging pilots to fly illegal operations. Respectfully, and honeslty, I offer this warning for your protection.

      • AIRCAP

        Hi Rod, or as I’ve called you, Mr. OpenAirplane!

        I’ve posted many replies and a full original post here on this PlaneSharing issue. As I know you know, this is a LAW issue, and what lawyers opinions are or even whether FAA ramp checkers ticket pilots is irrelevant, the existing LAW disallows Pilots to use internet advertising to hold out to the public, which is exactly what ProRataShare and FlyteNow are doing. You put it succinctly in your reply here to Mr. FlyteNow:

        “[S]haring costs privately like I explained above is
        legal. You could even call it planesharing. Planesharing as you [FlyteNow] are
        pitching it is not allowed. They are very different things.”

        I have a similar, but unrelated, yet partially applicable “Request for Legal Interpretation” submitted to the FAA Legal Counsel that made it all the way to the DC home office of the FAA, not merely to the regional office to which I originally submitted my Request. When I hear back from them, which is supposed to be by September 9, 2014, I will send you a copy (AOPA will receive one, too), and you may use its relevant information to help clarify PlaneSharing, to the extent you find it applicable. (Without being specific here, basically, it asks if a Part 91 operation is really a Part 135 operation.)

        The insurance issue, or rather, the fact that insurance coverage would be denied under internet-advertised planesharing, is one that I touched on, but should be a hot topic for the internet Agents-for-Pilots services. FlyteNow and/or ProRataShare themselves could be sued big-time if a pilot who used their advertising agency to hold out to the public were to have a substantial claim. The Law is clear, and insurance companies are known for taking premiums to hire lawyers to get them out of paying claims. Damages sued for against a pilot or the pilot’s surviving estate would find that pilot/estate suing the PlaneSharing advertiser for their profiteering from unwitting pilots using their advertising services.

        Thank you for your OpenAirplane service, perfectly legal and well done.

    • AIRCAP

      Alan — Actually, Mr. OpenAirplane DOES have factual support.
      Read 14USC§119 and the places in Part 135 it references.
      Also read AOPA’s compilation of articles and their references to case histories in “Part 91 vs Part 135 Operations.”
      In your comment’s summary, it does not matter if pilots fly more often, share the joy of flight, or whether many or even the whole world believes planesharing is the catalyst for reversing the downward trend in private aviation. Existing LAW trumps all of what you said. Sorry, just like Mr. OpenAirplane, I, too, am just reporting the truth.

  • ProRata Share

    Hi Mr. Rakic,

    I figured I would join the discussion as well as the founder of ProRataShare. While we appreciate the link to our site we are a bit displeased to be lumped into the grouping of a “ride share” program. If you would spend 5 solid minutes browsing our literature that is readily available around our site you will find that we are a networking tool for PILOTS and that is all. The general public need not apply. We spent the week at Oshkosh disproving what everyone had apparently made up their minds about and then introducing them to what we really were. I talked to thousands of pilots who themselves commended us on NOT being a ride sharing program but rather a business building working relationships and networking pilots together. I would appreciate it if you would research us a bit more and alter your article when you find that we shouldn’t be grouped with the rest of the “ride share” community.

    Scott Warhol

    • Rod Rakic

      Hi Scott,

      Thank for joining the conversation here. I appreciate your frustration with folks confusing you with something else. (We’re getting the same thing as I commented above.)

      I did look at your site Scott, and I still came to the same conclusion.

      Your positioning promotes, “SAVE UP TO $10,000 ON YOUR FLIGHT TRAINING!” (all caps yours.) I wish it could work.

      I probably know more about your specific business model than most…

      Way back in the cretaceous period of social networking, (aka 2007) some friends and I built myTransponder. It was a social networking tool built from the ground up for pilots. It featured detailed profiles for pilots, aircraft, and trips. Over 4,000 pilots from around the world built profiles on myT. If you needed to find someone with experience in a Cessna 337 from Southern California, you could do that. (Even today, Facebook or LinkedIn haven’t figured out that trick.) But we saw the same challenge in holding out back then that we do now. I would have loved to enable planesharing back then. (We built and launched everything pilots needed to do just that.) but we never promoted it that way, because it had too much potential for getting pilots in trouble with the FAA.

      The good news is, OpenAirplane pivoted out of myTransponder. The years I worked on myTransponder earned me the industry contacts, community, and confidence to tackle the wicked problem of airplane access with what eventually became OpenAirplane.

      Nowhere in the guidance, the regs, or the interpretations do I see where if the both pilots who are ride/flight sharing via a platform like yours changes anything. I appreciate that you’ve built a specific tool for a much narrower audience, and maybe the FAA would use some of that logic to offer us a safer harbor… But they haven’t yet.

      The argument comes down to, if pilots have an existing relationship which enables them to share a flight, then what do they need a tool like for? It’s the using of a tool which specifically is built to enable the behavior that the rules are designed to temper that would trigger an inspector to dig in. It’s a matter of degrees. At least the argument could be made that meeting up on more broader social platforms like the example I offered seems to be more defensible.

      Imagine if two of your pilots got ramp checked. The inspector gets them to admit during the interview that they connected online for the express purpose of sharing the cost of the flight, but had no other relationship beyond being connected on your platform…

      I wish I knew where the line was… is it:

      OK if we’re members of the same Facebook group?
      OK if we’re members of the same national guard squadron or flying club?
      OK if we’re members of the same church group?
      OK if we’re neighbors living in the same neighborhood?

      The AC says that the FAA gets to decide on a case-by-case basis. This is maddening.

      I don’t know if an inspector would choose to violate the pilots. There are a lot of FAA inspectors out there, operating with no clear guidance. (Hence the fact that any of this is even a debate.) But I’ve never been able to justify the reward vs. the risk.

      Sometimes if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… you know what they say.

      Again, the only way to for pilots to use your service without risk of violation is to offer them a legal interp specific to your model, which offers them a safe harbor. That would be cool.

      • ProRata Share

        Well, while I formulate a more thorough answer to your response I’ll just throw this out. ProRataShare is built on the entire foundation of using FAR part 61.113 and 91.109(c) to build time and SAVE $10,000 ON FLIGHT TRAINING. We clearly spell that out. (It does work, by the way, don’t be ignorant. I have personally mentored students into these kinds of savings) That is not holding out by ANY stretch of the advisory circular. Simply using two specific regulations spelled out very clearly in the regulations. We also clearly state in our info and offer guidance to avoid holding out and have talked to a few Feds along the way. I’ve been in aviation long enough to know enough people to tell me whether what I’m doing is infringing on a regulation. Enjoy. You will be hearing from us soon.

        Scott Warhol

      • Mike F.

        So, EAA, for example, is operating illegally? I joined my local EAA chapter, met other pilots I would not have otherwise known, and I’ve gone flying with them sharing pro-rata expenses. How is it different using a web site to do this rather than a meeting at the local airport? I understand that “holding out” a flight to a non-aviation person could cause confusion and should be avoided, but other pilots know what to expect and what questions to ask to be comfortable flying. It matters not how they met, they’re friends now! Regulations should apply to the message, not the medium.

        • Rod Rakic

          Hi Mike, thanks for commenting… but I never said what EAA does violates the regs.

          You bring up an important distinction, in that you joined your EAA chapter for a purpose beyond finding other pilots to share costs with… In your example, flying with people you already know is allowed. I gave the example of how this happens online for instance on message boards all the time. So we agree there.

          I wish the FAA would provide guidance that says holding out to other pilots is legitimate, but nowhere does it do so… The very murkiness of the guidance is the problem, easily fixed.

  • Pingback: We are NOT a Ride Share | ProRataShare Blog()

  • Jim

    I’m a new pilot, and think this could be done legally. From what I’ve read about common purpose, the pilot and all passengers having legitimate reason for being at the destination satisfies the rule regardless of whether they’re all going for the same reason.

    The pilot should be required to complete the listed flight regardless of whether any passengers join (except weather or mechanical safety) and update the posting with the status of the flight’s completion. The hosting company can easily monitor for non-completed flights and work with the FAA to report them. There should be usage limits, maybe 4 flights per month per pilot, to prevent abuse. I think the passengers should also update the status of the flight, enforced by paying a deposit that’s refunded upon updating.

    I see this as an opportunity for the FAA to get more data on how GA flights are conducted, and for the pilots to get a bit of a break on the cost of flying.

    • AIRCAP

      Hi Jim, and congrats on being a new pilot!
      Using your words, all your “think”ing will still not make PlaneSharing legal when PlaneSharing uses the internet to “advertise” on your behalf, thus “holding [you] out to the public” as a charter service on your behalf. (Read my long post above.) Essentially, when you “join” an online PlaneSharing service, even if it’s free, you have enlisted them to be your proxy to secure “business” for you, when you don’t have the proper business permit (a Charter Certificate, and all that goes with that). Sorry if this pops a bubble, but if you read my other reply comments here, you’ll see that even the seasoned pilots, who have thicker skinned bubbles, have had them popped because of the existing, already-in-place Law, whether they have good intentions, good thoughts, hopes, dreams, etc., the Law trumps all our preferences.

      • Jim

        Thanks! I’m glad you know everything and are the final authority on these matters.

        My feeble mind still does not see this as a business when the flight must proceed whether the pilot is paying 100% or 50% of the costs, when the service is enlisted to link together people traveling with a common purpose.

  • Jim Klick

    Regarding your response to Scott and ramp checks, why would the Inspector care about the purpose, cost sharing, personal relationships, or anything else beyond the pilot’s and the airplane’s paperwork?
    A lot of pilots taking their mistress out to lunch are in a world of hurt if the FAA cares about who is flying with you and why.

  • James Hiatt

    I agree with you that this proposal will not fly. The one issue that kills it, in my humble opinion, is the violation of “Holding Out and/or advertising”. It is one thing to post that I have a couple of seats to the keys for the weekend in a private group in which I know everyone and they know me well enough to know my capabilities. It is quite a different thing to put the same post out on a public forum open to the world.
    The non-flying public (and GA) deserves some protection from the inexperienced and incapable. They have no way to judge the competence of the person they are trusting their live to until it is too late.
    I wonder if the FAA would consider on OK if there were some requirement for pilot certifications and experience, such as Commercial Certificate, Current Instrument Rating, 500 hours total time, 50 hours in type or something like it.
    Jim Hiatt.

    • Joe Blizzard

      The fact that people often don’t do a proper risk assessment doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability or opportunity to properly assess risk. (And by “proper risk assessment” we generally mean an analysis that reaches the same conclusions we would reach if we were doing it for them with 20/20 hindsight after the incident.)

  • Shulman

    Mr. Rakic should be embarrassed by this article, and the entire aviation community should be ashamed insofar as he’s claiming to represent us. To suggest that the thickness of regulations has anything to do with the safety of the flight (or of any government-regulated activity) is absurdity and big-government paternalism at its best. (That said, I’m sure it can be said quite safely that there’s a direct correlation between the thickness of the regulations and the expense of flying (and by extension, an inverse correlation between the thickness of the regulations and the size of the pilot population).) How about instead of more regulation, which further limits the choices available to the traveling public, the FAA solve this “dilemma” with a simple solution: private pilots can “hold themselves out” for purposes of finding “ride-sharers” as long as their posting provides an adequate disclaimer of their aviation experience (or lack thereof) and the less rigorous regulatory environment in which they operate their aircraft (relative to the airlines). If need be, the FAA can regulate a “template” disclosure that is required to be given on any ride-sharing website. This would allow the public to make an informed decision and assumption of risk as opposed to foreclosing that ability from the get-go. (And if this is such an issue, why is everyone not crying foul at the myriad of car ridesharing sites out there? Surely every state has a “commercial” version drivers license, which is required of all livery, taxi, and limo drivers, but no one is questioning the ability to seek out fellow passengers to split the cost of auto gas….)

    • Rod Rakic

      The best part of your comment is that you offer a solution.

      You’ve roughly outlined what a safer harbor for planesharing could look like. This could bring these operations out of the grey market that that they have created, and enable us all to use them without fear of repercussion.

      You bring up a great point about how car ridesharing is an interesting analog to this.

      Plenty of people are questioning the ability to seek out passengers this way. In some states, laws have been past to make ridesharing services like Lyft and UberX legal. In other jurisdictions, (i.e. St. Louis) police are pulling drivers over for acting as illegal cab services and conducting sting operations to dissuade drivers from using these services to break the law. Here in the Illinois a ridesharing law (HB4075) has been sent to the Governor for his signature.

      I never claim to represent anyone but myself and my company. But I do stand by the principle that some rules keep us from attempting things that have proven to be dangerous, embarrassing, or both. It’s picking and choosing which rules apply that I argue against here.

    • AIRCAP

      No embarrassment for telling the truth. His intent was not to “represent” you or the aviation community. All you stated is something you disagree with, and Mr. OpenAirplane was not the one who created the thing you disagree with, you did yourself, well, through your Representatives in Congress. Mr. Rakic was merely reporting the news.
      I agree with you, “How about instead of more regulation….” But put that statement to the right target, Congress, not Mr. OpenAirplane.
      Also, your argument that compares CarSharing with PlaneSharing is an irrelevant argument, simply because there is no law against CarSharing. But there is against PlaneSharing. If you want to change the law, which already exists and demands our responsibility to it, then either run for public office yourself or enlist AOPA and/or your Federal Representative and Senators to change this Federal Law. Blame Congress, not OpenAirplane, not even the FAA, because Congess made the laws in the “Code of Federal Regulations”.

  • Bill Reister

    This is exactly how people start out trading freedom for security and end up with neither. The “problem” is not ride sharing; the “problem” is lawyers and the laws which actively encourage idiots to sue someone else for having made poor decisions themselves.

    I’m all in favor of such sites being required to point out that flying with individual owners is more dangerous than flying with the airlines – better yet, the site itself should serve as legal record of the potential passenger’s waiver of safety concerns. However, making comments like “Airline … and Charter… flying is something like 500 times safer than operations conducted by private pilots” only qualifies Mr. Rakic for politics, not honest discussion. Flying in bug smashers is still safer than driving on the freeway; let’s focus on the fact that by ride-sharing you may have saved the life of a person who might otherwise gotten in their car and been killed on the freeway. Throwing out such alarmist statistics only serve to put fuel on the fire of the ignorant masses believing that flying is somehow inherently more dangerous than driving and that “airplanes are raining out of the sky…” Good grief, Chicken Little…

    1. Is the pilot “holding out” the service to the public? What a ridiculous question. If you don’t “hold out” the service, how will you ever get someone to help share costs? This is the kind of “gotcha” questions devised by pro-bureaucratic weasels as a veiled excuse to prohibit activity they don’t happen to like.
    2. Do the pilot and the passenger(s) have “common purpose” for the flight? Of course they do – they both want to get to the same destination in a timely manner and for a reasonable price. Beyond that the government has no business whatsoever defining what “common purpose” is – letting that nose under the tent will end up having us file flight plans for our morning commute to work. If someone asks you this question, just say yes and refuse to expound on it.

    32 years ago I joined the Air Force with the hope of protecting our freedoms as well as to pursue aviation. It seems like this country is now focused on making sure that no one can enjoy anything if so much as one other person “doesn’t like it.” It’s time to start telling the folks with that mindset, “tough luck – get over it.”

    So here’s a better solution for you Mr. Rakic. Let’s give these ride-sharing sites a chance to get our GA fleet flying again. If you want more regulations, let’s make them ones that prevent the FAA from making it even more difficult for people to actually enjoy flying. More flights = more currency = better safety. Isn’t that what you want?

    • Rod Rakic


      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      But I have to point out that flying small planes is not safer statistically than driving on the highway. It’s hard to make that an apples to apples comparison. Don’t take my word for it, just review the Nall report:

      The accident rate in “bug smashers” is unacceptably bad. Heck, it’s the reason we built OpenAirplane as a way to encourage pilots to participate in a stand/eval program that is proven to lower the accident rate by 60%.

      The old joke about, “The most dangerous part of this flight was the drive to the airport,” is just fiction, unless you’re sitting in something operated by an airline.

      As reported this morning, the FAA pretty much stuck a fork in the debate by issuing clear guidance on the issue.

      We can do better. Together we can make flying more valuable, safer, and more fun.

      • Bill Reister


        While I agree that it is “difficult” to make an apples-to-apples comparison, it is not impossible. A deeper analysis into flight safety vs auto safety generally comes up at least equal, tips in aviation’s favor, for simple Point A to Point B flights. The only fictions in this discussion are blanket statements that GA is “generally more dangerous than driving” and sensationalist comparisons between professional operations and GA which, whether it was your intention to do so or not, help bolster the negative perceptions among the ignorant that “airplanes fall out of the sky…”

        Looking deeper at the report you gave shows that 17% of the fatal accidents were during instruction – not even candidate flights for “ride sharing.” Some are caused by people doing stuff they shouldn’t do – probably not the sort of behavior you would see when people are simply going from point A to point B, as in a “most likely scenario” for ride sharing. A high percentage are caused by mechanical failures more frequently within the homebuilt world – a separate conversation, but a reality. Most importantly, however, is that many of the accidents are at least partially attributable to lack of currency or low number of hours per year – a situation which might dramatically improve if the FAA stops solving THEIR problem of policing a few cheaters trying to be an air taxi without a license by imposing an over-reaching rule that adversely affects most honest pilots. This last should be foremost in your mind if you are truly concerned about safety, because by reducing the cost of flying we will most certainly increase the average flight hours per year per pilot – one of the few controllable
        factors proven to be most effective to reducing accidents.

        As for the FAA “sticking a fork in it,” we are not yet in a dictatorship and there are consequences for over-reaching regulation. It’s about time for another lawsuit resulting in another FAA smackdown – it has happened before, and most likely will again. Personally, I don’t see any scenario in which a court agrees with their self-opinion that their regulatory reach includes controlling social media matching sites, although admittedly we’ve seen courts uphold bigger breaches of our Constitution to date. Even if that happens, Congress may still step in and remind them that they work for us – not the other way around.

        At the end of the day neither you nor I will make that decision; however, what is most surprising, disappointing, and somewhat disturbing is to see the founder of a nation-wide aviation rental company coming out so negatively with respect to the avocation from which you derive your income. Like it or not, the opinions you publish will impact your bottom line one way or another. If you succeed (whether that was your intention or not) in convincing everyone that “GA is dangerous,” you will succeed in driving up costs which will ultimately act as a dis-incentive to flying, reducing your total potential market. If you persist in denigrating the safety of GA and fail to gain your stated desire to squelch such sites, people will still remember that you were in favor of restricting our flying opportunities and will think twice about renting from you. Everyone is accountable to someone, and you owe what is undoubtedly your good fortune to the people you are clamoring to deny their best opportunity to increase their use of your services.

  • Jack Burton

    Has anyone considered the insurance implications?
    Suppose you are sued (in the same manner as the airliners are) for a physical injury or even psychological trauma from a turbulence encounter? (Let alone something more serious)

    • AIRCAP

      Good point. Whether we like it or not, the plane sharing schemes are illegal, and any accident or incident occurring during or caused by such a flight operation will render insurance coverage non-existent and the Pilot (and his/her assets) liable and subject to Court seizure as a remedy. Tell that to your wife, pilots!

  • Samuel

    Call me crazy…but I question the whole premise here. In all this we assume that it is ok that the FAA tells us we can’t share costs unless we meet X, Y, and Z criteria.

    But why?

    Cars aren’t regulated like that. Neither are boats. What gives them the right to tell me how I can use my plane? They should put a cap on number of passengers or some other metric to differentiate between scheduled air carriers and charters. The current rule is arbitrary and silly.

    C’mon people. Think outside the box.

    • AIRCAP

      Samuel — Craziness is not the issue. Nor is what we might like the
      issue. The issue is what IS, and that, like it or not, is dictated to
      us by FAA regulation, based on the Code of Federal Regulations, i.e.,
      federal LAW.
      Neither Mr. OpenAirplane nor Mr. ProRataShare can deny
      the Law, only report the news. And, sadly, the news is that it IS
      ILLEGAL to hold out or to not previously have a common interest, because
      it makes such a flight a charter flight, and if the pilot, even if
      commercially rated with a 2nd Class medical, is not on the
      (non-existent) charter certificate, the Pilot IS in violation of
      sections of FAR 119 & 135 & 61 because the Pilot “SHOULD HAVE
      Doesn’t matter if I like it or not, or if you or Mr.
      ProRataShare like it or not, such a flight and its pilot are ILLEGAL
      under current law. All our hard wishing is simply silly sentiment in a
      Court of Law.

      • Samuel

        Oh I totally agree…we have to work in the confines of the existing laws.

        But we can dream, can’t we? :-)


    What I’m about to say is NOT what I want any more than it is what any of you want, so temper my comments with that understanding.

    Plane sharing via the “holding out to the public” via internet “advertising” is nothing less than the creation of an illegal Part 135 charter flight operation. Like it or not, this IS the law, and we’re stuck with it until Congress changes it.

    And, any pilot, including either a Commercially certificated pilot or even an ATP who has a 2nd- or even 1st-Class aviation medical, cannot LEGALLY pilot such a charter flight since there is no existing charter certificate by anyone, thus such a pilot cannot be listed as an authorized charter pilot on a non-existent charter certificate. You “should have known” the kind of flight operation you would be (or have been) conducting, thus you, as Pilot-in-Command, are in violation of various sections of Parts 119, 135, & 61. Add even more to it that that: the aircraft has not met Part 135 requirements (check the aircraft logbooks, you won’t find such authorizations), thus the Pilot is in violation of even more sections of aviation and transportation law.

    To Mr. ProRataShare (Scott Warhol), please consider this:
    On your web site , you state, “Now that you have your Private Pilots Certificate you can leverage it to help you save you money as you move forward!” Sir, YOU may not be doing an illegal thing in matchmaking, BUT you DO put every pilot at risk of being violated because you are teaching them how to “leverage” the saving of money. Sure, I’m all for saving money, but it needs to be done LEGALLY, and YOU are teaching Pilots to act ILLEGALLY.

    Furthermore, IF -and let’s hope it doesn’t happen- IF there was a catastrophic loss,
    the surviving PIC would be sued for conducting an illegal charter operation, not having either a charter-legal aircraft or charter-minimum insurance, and insurance would deny any claim anyway. THEN, if the PIC or his/her survivors had any brains, they would sue YOU for YOUR coercive part in their departed family member’s illegal flight operation. And you KNOW they would win, and YOU would lose everything
    dear to you. So take this as a warning, and understand that I am only reporting this news, not agreeing with either it or the lawsuit-crazed society we live in.

    AOPA has available for download (or print?) a compilation of Pilot magazine and other articles which reference NTSB case files on “Part 91 vs Part 135 Operations”. Every Pilot should study this compendium. Every PlaneSharing gimmick -oops, legitimate business activity- should study this compendium.

    And for the record, let’s not confuse OpenAirplane with PlaneSHARING, these are an
    apple and a lemon. OpenAirplane makes aircraft accessible to member pilots from out of their local area. OpenAirplane is NOT ILLEGAL.

    PlaneSHARING is, due to holding out to the public by internet advertising, which is exactly what online plane sharing gimmicks do, as much as they would like to deny it. I’d go so far as to say that such gimmicks have bilked their members and should return all dues & payments and close up shop until Congress changes what IS currently the LAW.

  • kthomas

    While operating the aircraft between point’s A and B, the FAA can be concerned. Once I arrive, my activity is none of their darn business. Whether I go golf while my girlfriend shops, or I go to an AOPA seminar while my passenger visits his grandmother falls squarely under the category NUNYA. Representing the flight as a commercial movement would certainly be wrong but if it is well understood by all parties that there is an airplane and a pilot interested in making a particular flight and then a passenger that is interested in riding along, it is just private people going for a ride together and sharing only the sharable portion of the costs. Why is that a problem?

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