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The website states they're not a Part 380. Love their service -- how will they avoid the same fate as Flytenow?

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Long story short, Blackbird appears to be set up so that the customer leases an aircraft and separately hires a pilot to fly it. That makes it a 'straight' part 91 operation. However, the FAA has stated that pilots using Blackbird are holding out and require part 119/135 certificates (with some technical exceptions, such as 91K).


Blackbird's terms and conditions for pilots specifically mention 91 B but not K and include a few interesting points (emphasis mine):

  • Pilot services are offered as an independent contractor to users under a dry lease
  • The pilot is not directly employed by the owner of the airplane
  • The pilot operating the flight cannot own the aircraft being rented
  • Pilot hiring is at the discretion of the passenger; BlackBird will facilitate matching pilots with aircraft based on passenger selected routes, pilot qualifications, and location and availability of both pilot and aircraft
  • Pilot understands that passenger (lessee) renting the aircraft and hiring the pilot accept and maintain operational control of the flight; these operational duties may be delegated to the pilot in command.

In other words, the passenger rents an aircraft from an owner and then separately hires a pilot to fly it, according to the passenger's instructions. Blackbird is saying that they only provide a marketplace, and the customers actually lease and operate the aircraft themselves.

This is from their general term and conditions:

The Platform provides a marketplace that enables users to (a) connect with and lease aircraft from third parties that own, lease, or otherwise control aircraft (“Aircraft Owners”) and to find and hire flight crews (“Flight Crews”), or (b) join flights with third-party operators or other BlackBird users on the Platform (“Third-Party Operators”).

And:

If you wish to lease an aircraft from an Aircraft Owner and / or hire qualified Flight Crew, then you can use the Platform to search for available aircraft and Flight Crew

Because the owner just rents out the aircraft without a pilot, they aren't operating an air carrier. Because the pilot doesn't provide the aircraft, they aren't holding out. That means the only pilot qualification needed is a commercial certificate, although Blackbird also requires 500hrs, an instrument rating and a background check.

Now, whether or not that business model will survive if the FAA gets interested in it is another question. There was some discussion on the AOPA forums (members only) a while ago about Blackbird and I think the consensus came down to "technically legal, but pushing their luck with the FAA and DOT".

A semi-useful comparison here might be Uber. They've always claimed that they aren't a transportation company but rather a marketplace that just connects independent drivers with customers. That argument has succeeded in some places but not in others, and many countries and cities have decided that Uber is a transportation company and started regulating them. I have no idea whether or not that will happen with Blackbird.


Update: on December 17th, 2019 the FAA made its opinion very clear in a letter to Blackbird's lawyers:

The information that BlackBird has presented leads us to conclude that the pilots participating in BlackBird's platform and using its app are holding out and thus are engaged in common carriage.

If you're a pilot who flew via Blackbird, their closing statement isn't reassuring:

Accordingly, please expect further investigative activity into BlackBird's operations, particularly regarding its pilot database. In addition, we would be interested in learning of any action you intend to take in view of the jeopardy facing pilots who participate in BlackBird' s service.

There's a lot more discussion online, especially in Reddit (/r/flying) if you want to read more.

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    $\begingroup$ General aviation aircraft leasing has come under some scrutiny in Europe recently, following the death of footballer Emiliano Sala, and USA-registered aircraft were involved in the series of flights before the fatal crash. The FAA may be "encouraged" to get interested in this legal area …. bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-47626855 $\endgroup$ – alephzero Mar 24 '19 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ Due to the FAA letter in late December 2019, this answer is no longer applicable. $\endgroup$ – wbeard52 Dec 20 '19 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ @wbeard52 Maybe. Blackbird could challenge the FAA in court, as Flytenow did. I know I have an interest in this answer, but if it isn't applicable then what is? For now, at least :-) $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Dec 20 '19 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think the FAA will allow untrained or unqualified pilots from ever providing air taxi service. Services like these push the boundaries but the FAA will insist they follow Part 119 regulations. The answer by Jason Blair is more correct now. I am pretty sure Blackbird's fate will be the same as FlyteNow. $\endgroup$ – wbeard52 Dec 20 '19 at 4:10
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In an FAA letter this week…

We have considered the June 10, 2019 letter from BlackBird Air, Inc. (BlackBird), that set out many aspects of its business model and operating assumptions. The information that BlackBird has presented leads us to conclude that the pilots participating in BlackBird's platform and using its app are holding out and thus are engaged in common carriage.

Going on...

In sum, the FAA has concluded that pilots' use of the Black:Bird platform constitutes "holding out" and participating pilots are engaged in common carriage. Because these operations are subject to part 119 certification, a pilot who holds an airline transport pilot or commercial pilot certificate must obtain and hold a certificate issued under part 135 or the pilot must be employed by a company operating the flight that is certificated under part 119.

And...

Accordingly, please expect further investigative activity into BlackBird's operations, particularly regarding its pilot database.

You can read the full letter here

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