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Is it possible for an Uber or Lyft type service to operate that allows pilots with small aircraft to share a ride under current FAA regulations? I personally don't see how this could operate under 14 CFR 91, but maybe under what's allowed under 14 CFR 135.

I haven't been able to identify exactly what companies are trying, but I've been hearing that something like Uber for small planes is under development. This has caused great skepticism on my part that a company could accomplish this because of the regulatory requirements involved.

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    $\begingroup$ I doubt it, this would fall under air taxi regulations. Even if they tried to skirt the air taxi issue (like Uber does with cities that require licensed taxi drivers), you as a private pilot still can't accept money for a flight. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 6 '17 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer my question doesn't say anything about private pilot $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Feb 6 '17 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Federico I meant current GA aircraft. I'm also skeptical of all the flying car stuff, that's another topic. $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Feb 6 '17 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't really matter though, a CPL or ATPL do not have any more rights to carry passengers for hire in private aircraft than a PPL does. As you suspect this is more than just the qualifications of the pilots, but the regulations behind the equipment and the operation that matter. Uber and Lyft are private citizens using private vehicles, so I just extended your example "Uber or Lyft type model" to mean somebody without any other qualifications than a license, just like those drivers. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 6 '17 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that a CPL/ATPL doesn't have more rights to carry a passenger for hire. $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Feb 6 '17 at 23:45
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Depending on how much detail you want, you can read the legal ruling in Flytenow Inc. vs FAA, which is the most recent and highest-level ruling on general aviation flightsharing. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Essentially, Flytenow wanted to let pilots find passengers willing to share the costs of a flight. They emphasized repeatedly that all decisions about if and when to fly, the route to take etc. would be made by the pilot, not the passengers. The FAA said that by advertising for passengers, pilots would be holding out, which makes it a commercial operation. There were plenty of arguments on both sides, but ultimately the courts decided that the FAA was acting consistently with previous decisions and regulations.

Flytenow made three legal arguments, all of which were judged invalid on appeal:

  1. Advertising for passengers is protected free speech under the First Amendment
  2. Private pilots' equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment are infringed if they can't share costs
  3. The FAA's ruling was vague

But if you read the court's decision, you can see that the court basically agreed with the FAA that protecting passengers justifies limiting what private pilots can do:

The FAA’s distinction between pilots offering expense-sharing services on line to a wide audience and those offering expense-sharing services to a limited group is justified: holding out to the public creates the risk that unsuspecting passengers, under the impression that the service and its pilots lawfully offer common carriage, will contract with pilots who in fact lack the experience and credentials of commercial pilots.

To put it even more simply, the basic difference between Uber and Flytenow is that the FAA believes that the general public can identify a bad driver, but not a bad pilot. That's the fundamental reason for having commercial licenses, part 135 etc.

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    $\begingroup$ ...the FAA believes that the general public can identify a bad driver, but not a bad pilot. Also, if a car breaks down or runs out of gas mid-trip due to the driver's negligence or incompetence, it's unlikely to get anyone killed. (Unlikely, not impossible.) If an airplane breaks down or runs out of gas mid-flight, it's a lot more serious. $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Feb 6 '17 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve-O The other difference seems to be that in the analogy with road vehicles taxi-cab drivers traditionally didn't need a license any different from the usual one. i.e. No CDL needed. i.e. Same license allowed you to ferry 4 passengers for a fare. Things in aircraft licensing were fundamentally different. $\endgroup$ – curious_cat Feb 7 '17 at 11:58
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There are some companies operating under 135 that are trying to do this. For example Blade which flys out of NYC has been pretty popular. Basically the premise is that if you make the first reservation you need to book the whole helicopter (effectively chartering it). You may elect to allow them to sell the other seats and undercut your costs. However if they cant, you are on the hook for the whole charter cost. I also believe that the time is not officially posted until the chartering occurs.

There have been some attempts at the "ride share" thing for part 91 but the FAA has all but shut them down.

What the FAA will not allow, and what the court agreed with in its ruling, is advertising to the general public through a website like Flytenow or competitor AirPooler for such flights. Even posting to a bulletin board at a local airport is a gray area that could get you in hot water with the FAA for "holding out" to the public for commercial air service.

The issue the FAA seems to have with it at least on one hand is the posting of flight times. This apparently brushes up against the 121 regulations. Although as the article mentions this happens on airplane forums more often than people seem to think and its all clearly a grey area.

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