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I know this is a question that a lawyer should be helping out with, but I figured I would start here just to point me in some different directions.

I am interest in doing flights to ferry passengers in need of transportation to medical appointments or animals in need of transport for rescue. i.e. Pilots for Patients, Angel Flight, Pilots N Paws. I'd like to do this as often as possible but do not have the financial ability to pay the expenses for countless flights. I have some friends who are interested in donating to me to be able to do more of these flights so I was hoping to set up a non-profit to make these donations tax deductible. And then the non-profit could pay for the expenses of the flights or possibly even an hourly rate for my time.

If I have my commercial rating, is it ok to be reimbursed for flight expenses for these flights? Is it okay if I am paid beyond the expenses of doing these flights?

My dream goal would be to eventually grow this concept to include other pilots, have a fleet of planes, etc, but trying to start with just myself for now.

Thanks for any help

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    $\begingroup$ If you have bona fide friends that want to gift you some money because they like you and you want to spend that money on charitable flights the FAA doesn't need to know about it. ;) (Needless to say this wouldn't be tax deductible). $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 23:44

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It sounds to me like you would be holding out a willingness to transport people from place to place for compensation. This makes you a common carrier, and you would need an part 135 certificate.

If you want to fly charitable flights, fly the charitable flights you can afford to fly.

Alternatively, you could ask the FAA to exempt your organization from some of the FARs under part 11. This will come with extra operating limitations, but they might be less onerous than a full-on part 135 operation. This is at the FAA's discretion. It's very unlikely that they will allow you to be compensated beyond your expenses, but you may get an exception for fuel costs.

To give you an idea of what this might be like, here is Angel Flight of NE's exemption letter. As you can see, it has a lot of requirements.

This is probably not allowed under tax law anyway. From How to lose your 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status (without really trying):

A 501(c)(3) organization’s activities should be directed toward some exempt purpose. Its activities should not serve the private interests, or private benefit, of any individual or organization more than insubstantially.

and

A 501(c)(3) organization is prohibited from allowing its income or assets to benefit insiders – typically board members, officers, directors and important employees of an organization. If an organization benefits insiders, the insiders and the organization could be subject to penalty excise taxes and the organization could lose its tax-exempt status.

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This is a commercial air operation, falling under Part 135. With a CPL, as well as meeting other requirements (hours), and with an operating certificate for the company, you may conduct it.

The FAA's definition of private flights is much stricter than the IRS' definition of non-profit. A non-profit pays wages, it just can't be used as the owner's personal wallet. Most non-profits aren't charities.

For the FAA, any flights where the pilot earns any money, or even just doesn't pay for the expenses, are commercial. Whether it comes from a for-profit, non-profit, or a private person is immaterial.

What you're devising is a FAA Part 135 Air Carrier, which requires commercial certification. It may qualify for tax exemptions, but that's an aviation-unrelated matter that can be better resolved on Law or Finance SE.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just a CPL isn't enough. You need an operating certificate or to be operating under someone who has one, and there are additional requirements to be part 135 PIC (namely, 500 total hours, 100 XC hours, 25 night XC hours, and an instrument rating). $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 2:42

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