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As I understand it, private pilots can not take paying passengers.

(Friends on a flight can give the pilot strictly only the friend's share of fuel etc. costs.)

But in fact can private pilots

  • do aerial photography/videography and charge for it?
  • do reconnaissance/similar and charge for it?
  • deliver packages, or indeed cargo?
  • drop skydivers for pay
  • pull up gliders for pay

What's the deal on that?

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  • $\begingroup$ As with any regulation question, this may differ per jurisdiction. Also, sorry if it'd a dupe already... $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 1 '20 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ Since it can, and probably does, vary with jurisdiction, it would help if you specified one. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Aug 1 '20 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ The fact that the OP has now received two answers which state the exact opposite thing for the same jurisdiction underlines why so many Stack Exchange sites have a strict "no legal questions, ask your lawyer" policy. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 '20 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ hi @JörgWMittag , it's not a legal question. It's a question about PPLs (there are a large number of PPL questions on here - it even has a tag!) $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 2 '20 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ There is a YouTube pilot, PilotBambi, who flew planes dropping skydivers in the Netherlands with a private pilot certificate. Jurisdiction matters, but definitely not allowed in the US. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Aug 2 '20 at 18:42
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In the U.S. the answer to most of these questions is a resounding “No”.

  • No aerial photography.
  • No aerial survey or reconnaissance
  • No cargo or property delivery
  • No skydivers (they count as passengers, after all)
  • Yes for glider towing.

Oddly, according to FAR §61.113(g), glider towing is one very specific exception in which private pilots may receive compensation or hire for acting as PIC.

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According to the current FAA stance on the issue, none of it is allowed except glider towing.

The latest interpretation from the FAA that I'm aware of is the 2010 Perry interpretation, however, there was a conflicting letter (Del Rossi) from 1987 that said the opposite from the White interpretation. The FAA further clarified the discrepancy between these two letters in 2010 with the Perry interpretation. (Note: this link contains both of those interpretations from 1987 and 2010 together.)

The FAA acknowledged the discrepancy in 2010 and determined that the older letter took precedence because it was issued by the national office, but the White interpretation was issued by a regional office, although on a later date.

For aerial photography and survey, if it is in furtherance of their own business and is simply incidental to that business, yes, they may perform the work as a private pilot according to the White interpretation. The other interpretations, which take precedence say this is wrong.

If someone else hires them to fly so the passenger may do those things, it's definitely not allowed nor has it ever been mistakenly indicated as allowed by the FAA for private pilots in past interpretations.

There is the White interpretation from 1995 that incorrectly states:

To the extent that your operation would be in furtherance of your own business of aerial photography or survey, and you are not carrying persons or property for compensation or hire, then you may do so holding a private pilot certificate. However, to the extent that your operation would involve operating your aircraft as an aerial platform for other photographers, etc., for compensation or hire, you would need to be the holder of at least a commercial pilot certificate in order to act as the pilot.

So, in short:

  1. Do aerial photography/videography and charge for it? - No, but it was mistakenly allowed according to the White interpretation in 1995.

  2. Do reconnaissance/similar and charge for it (aerial survey)? - No, but it was mistakenly allowed according to the White interpretation in 1995.

  3. Deliver packages, or indeed cargo? - No, this would be carrying property for compensation or hire. See 61.113(a)

  4. Drop skydivers - No, this would be carrying passengers for compensation or hire. See 61.113(a)

  5. Pull up gliders for pay - Yes. See 61.113(G)

If you're actually planning on flying and making money somehow related to that flying and you aren't 100% sure you are legal, please ask an aviation lawyer in addition to online research.

If even the FAA managed to make a mistake on the subject, there's plenty of room for the rest of us to do so.

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  • $\begingroup$ thanks - the White Interpretation ... who or what is "Leland S. Edwards, Jr. Attorney". An FAA personage? Just some attorney ?! I see it seems to come from faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/agc/… (perhaps this is familiar to aviators, but not me ??) $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 2 '20 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ Answer is updated based on new information. $\endgroup$ Aug 2 '20 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ Astonishing stuff, Ryan !!! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 2 '20 at 22:04

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