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Is there anything in the FARs that would prohibit a commercial pilot from doing multiple trips to ferry friends to an event in his/her personal aircraft assuming that the friends did not provide any compensation?

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  • $\begingroup$ When you say "no compensation" do you mean that the pilot pays all the costs? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 24 '16 at 4:09
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According to this interpretation that seems to match your scenario very closely, as long as you're also attending the event then a single trip is fine but multiple trips are not. And you would be acting as a private pilot, not a commercial pilot.

The interpretation was about an ATP who ferried fellow club members to an event (in nine flights!) and did receive money to cover costs, but the main points would apply to a CPL in your scenario too. In summary:

  • Flight time is compensation, therefore you're being compensated for the flights even if no money changes hands (the ATP argued that flight time in a C172 was worthless to him, but the FAA said they don't analyze individual cases)
  • Acting as a private pilot you can receive compensation only if a "bona fide common purpose" exists
    • If you aren't attending the event yourself, there's no common purpose
    • If you are attending the event, only the first flights there and back have a common purpose; subsequent flights to bring more people to the event do not
  • Acting as a commercial pilot you can receive compensation for transporting people only if you have an air carrier certificate (per 14 CFR 119.1)

You didn't give many details about your scenario, but if you're attending the event yourself then you should be fine for one flight each way under your private privileges. Any more than that and there's no common purpose.

Of course, the caveat here is that every situation is different and perhaps there's something about your case that would result in a different FAA interpretation. However, the basic points about compensation and common purpose are very consistent across interpretations.

(Apologies for not quoting the interpretation directly, but the FAA seems determined to make it as difficult as possible to copy and paste from their documents.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd really like to see some evidence that this interpretation would be the same if there was no compensation. 'Common purpose' is applicable only if there is compensation, and the air carrier certificate applies only if there is compensation. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 23 '16 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth The interpretation says "Generally, accrual of flight time is compensation and the FAA does not enter into a case-by-case analysis to determine whether the logging of flight time is of value to a particular pilot". So as I mentioned, the pilot is being compensated just by flying the aircraft, hence the need to prove a common purpose. And they rejected the ATP's argument that the flight time wasn't helpful for his career, so it seems unlikely that they would decide differently for a commercial pilot. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Aug 23 '16 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ Are the passengers paying any of the costs? If there was I understand the issue. If not then where is the compensatiion? The pilot us receiving no compensation even in the form if flight time. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 24 '16 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ To follow your argument to its conclusion, if flight time is considered compensation even if the pilot is paying all the costs then why isn't he considered to be receiving compensation even if he does this without carrying passengers? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 24 '16 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm with DJClayworth on this. And even if I weren't, the pilot is not under obligation to actually log his hours, thus removing that "flight time in itself is compensation" argument. $\endgroup$ – Steve H Aug 24 '16 at 13:33
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Citing this similar case, if the pilot shares a common purpose with the friends, there seems to be no issue if it is one flight.

Assuming, however, that the pilot planned to attend the race and conducted the flights with this purpose, his bona fide common purpose with his passengers for making the trip would only extend to the first flight to the race site.

If in doubt, as such matters confuse many commercial and airline transport pilots, contact the local FSDO for their interpretation of the intended operation.

Plane type, weight, and passenger capacity also play a role in the legality of the matter. Even if no money changes hands, certain scenarios require an air carrier / commercial operator license.


Is logging hours a compensation? Yes.

The FAA has consistently construed compensation broadly. Compensation "does not require a profit, a profit motive, or the actual payment of funds." Legal Interpretation to Joseph Kirwan (May 27,2005). Rather, compensation is the receipt of anything of value. The FAA has previously found that reimbursement of expenses (fuel, oil, transportation, lodging, meals, etc.), accumulation of flight time, and goodwill in the form of expected future economic benefit could be considered compensation. Legal Interpretation to John W. Harrington (Oct. 23, 1997); Blakey v. Murray, NTSB Order No. EA-5061 (Oct. 28, 2003).—Hancock - (2013)

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure why you say there's "no issue"; the interpretation seems fairly clear that multiple trips wouldn't be acceptable. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Aug 22 '16 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ This cites a case in which there is compensation. I'd like to see evidence that would not change the situation. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 23 '16 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth You seem not to be aware that the FAA consistently defines compensation very broadly indeed, and they mention that in every interpretation where it comes up. One of them (the Kirwan interpretation) defines it as "receipt of anything of value"! That can include fuel, food, hospitality, flight time, future goodwill etc. at the FAA's discretion. In practice, it gives the FAA a tool to deal with people abusing the system, not people flying friends for lunch, but as with any regulation there will always be questions about where the boundaries lie. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Aug 23 '16 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ The OP does specifically say "no compensation". If there is indeed no compensation, why would multiple trips be unacceptable? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 24 '16 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Aug 24 '16 at 16:24

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