This question was inspired by this other question. If a private pilot was to pay the pro-rata share of a flight for some skydiving friends, could they take those friends up and let them jump out?

If so, what counts as "pro rata share"? Is it expenses for the whole flight from takeoff to landing, or does the pilot assume 100% of the cost after the point where the skydivers leave the plane?

  • $\begingroup$ The CFRs aren’t specific (to my knowledge) about timing the exit of a skydiver from the aircraft for the purpose of determining whether pro rata cost sharing ends for that leg of flight. If you are flying skydiving friends my advice would be to share costs in cash on a basis that you decide is in compliance. In other words, don’t ask, don’t tell. If you are simply asking for an opinion you will get more than you want... if you are asking for permission you won’t get it here. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Aug 1 '20 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Once they jump they ain't passengers anymore. $\endgroup$ – GdD Aug 1 '20 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ Or, you could bypass the entire “for-hire” argument and take the jumpers up at no charge to them. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Aug 1 '20 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ The whole “for hire” commercial vs private is so simple in its intent, yet generates SO much overthinking and so many questions by those seeking either to flirt with the edges, or who are fearful of getting in trouble for the slightest transgression. (What if it is my idea to go flying, but my friend drives us in his car, does his paying for ground transportation constitute an illegal benefit to me?) $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Aug 1 '20 at 20:41

This is not so difficult. Many people like to refer to the regs without actually looking at the regs. This is all taken from §61.113.

Pro rata share is not the same as getting compensated.

(c) A private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.

In this scenario, the pilot isn’t holding out as a commercial operator; these are his friends.

According to any online legal dictionary, the pro rata share is defined as the total cost divided by the number of shares. In other words, the total cost of fuel, oil, airport costs, and rental fees split evenly between everyone in the plane, including the pilot. As long as it is split evenly, it’s not compensation or hire, it’s cost-sharing.

All that said, NEVER do anything because some guy on stack exchange told you that it was ok. Check the regs for yourself and contact your local FSDO for clarification.

  • $\begingroup$ But how do you properly divide the expenses when some or all of the passengers leave the plane mid-flight? $\endgroup$ – StephenS Aug 2 '20 at 7:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StephenS: You’re splitting hairs. The flight is the flight. Anyone on board when you take off is a passenger. The FAA isn’t going to sub-divide them into half-passengers or anything else, just because they jumped. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Holmes Aug 2 '20 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ Given some of their other ridiculous rulings, I wouldn’t put it past them, and that is clearly what the OP was asking about. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Aug 2 '20 at 13:47

If the pilot and skydivers maintain true integrity and aren't actually exchanging money or favors, then yes, it is legal.

Let's look at a couple of possible scenarios.

Scenario A: Three private pilots who have skydiving certification take turns flying the plane for each other while two of them dive. They go up acting as the pilot an equal number of times, and they all split the cost of the aircraft 3-ways. None of them were compensated or hired for their turn flying, and they all paid a pro-rata share.

This is clearly legal, and this scenario above sounds plausible and makes sense to an outside observer.

Scenario B: a pilot agrees to spend hundreds of dollars to take two other people skydiving for no compensation and even agrees to split the cost of renting the plane 3-ways. (*How generous of him...)

If this were actually what was happening, this is perfectly legal. However, it is suspicious; I think that if this got the attention of the FAA, they might start wondering how the pilot is really being compensated.

Is one of the skydivers mowing the pilot's lawn for free as "a favor"? Did one of them let you borrow his backhoe a couple of times to do some landscaping? Are they watching your kids while you're at work?

The FAA ultimately decides what compensation is, and it doesn't necessarily mean cash, so be careful with this.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer, and no offense, but the "favor" examples you offered are just the kind of thing that drives me nuts. Do people with driver's licenses fret over whether giving their neighbor a ride to work in exchange for lawn mowing requires a CDL and business license? I think not. The key phrase is "if this got the attention of the FAA". Understand the intent, don't highlight yourself or abuse the rules, and let the FAA just go ahead and try to piece together a paper trail of lawn mowing favors as evidence against you if it ever becomes an issue... $\endgroup$ – Michael Hall Aug 2 '20 at 2:45

A private pilot may possibly get away with dropping skydivers when there's no question of compensation whatsoever, but the FAA may see that differently as they consider skydiving flights as commercial operations.

Whenever there is compensation for a flight (regardless of whether the pilot is compensated), that flight is considered a "commercial" operation. Nearly all jump flights involve compensation and, by FAA standards, skydiving flights are commercial operations. [...] The FAA requires pilots to hold at least a current commercial pilot certificate, along with a current second class medical certificate.

There are some matters to consider for the aircraft used for the operations as well.

When an aircraft is used in a commercial operation, the aircraft is subject to a 100-hour inspection, as well as an annual inspection.


Federal regulations (14 CFR Part 119) describe the certification requirements for air carriers and commercial operators, but exempts skydiving flights operating within 25 miles of the departure airport. As a result, skydiving flights are conducted in accordance with 14 CFR Part 91 and 14 CFR Part 105.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! Quoting references is good, but please use the quote formatting and link to the source so we know what it is. The tour might be helpful if you're new to the site. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Aug 1 '20 at 23:30

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