I'm a grad student working on some research that is funded by grants awarded to my advisor at an American university. We perform scientific measurements using GPS receivers and are considering collecting some data from an airborne platform. (These measurements are completely passive. They simply record signals from any available GPS satellites visible to the receiver).

I happen to be a private pilot (+instrument) and was wondering if I could rent a plane, carry one of these receivers onboard to take measurements, and be reimbursed for the flight afterwards.


(b) A private pilot may, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft in connection with any business or employment if:

    (1) The flight is only incidental to that business or employment; and

    (2) The aircraft does not carry passengers or property for compensation or hire

I believe such a task would certainly be "incidental to my employment" and our organization. The flight(s) would be solo. I suppose I am carrying property (the GPS receivers), but the intent is not to transport it for compensation or hire... I suppose (b) is what I'm unsure about...

Would love some additional thoughts on this.



2 Answers 2


It's very straightforward. The GPS receivers are their property, and if you are compensated, then you are carrying property for compensation.

Ask yourself this: would my advisor still reimburse me if I did the exact same flight without the receivers aboard? Of course not. So you are being compensated specifically to carry property. You say that the intention is not to "transport" it, but the phrase used in 61.113 is "carry," not "transport." There is no doubt you will be "carrying" the receivers, and that you are only being compensated because you are carrying them.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Aviation Meta, or in Aviation Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Apr 21, 2023 at 8:06

If you were to run afoul of 61.113 on this matter it would NOT be for carrying the equipment.

The words “carry” and “transport” are not uniquely separate or different. Nor are they specific to aviation – Freight carriers in other transportation industry modes use the same terminology.

Carry: “to transport goods from one place to another.”

Per the White interpretation of 1995:

“The Agency has consistently interpreted Section 135(b)(4) so that if an aircraft lands at a site other than its origin, the aerial photography or survey exception does not apply*. This is due to the fact that the flight takes on the "dual purpose" of both aerial photography or survey and transporting passengers from one point to another for compensation or hire.” (emphasis is mine)

If you take off and land at the same airport you are NOT transporting the equipment from one place to another, therefore you are not engaged in private or commercial carriage. The mere presence of the equipment in the aircraft does not meet the required definition for carrying it. The purpose of the flight is to use the equipment, not transport it.

The harder part might be determining whether the flight is incidental or not. To help us determine this we can look to the Perry interpretation which states in part:

...an individual must hold a commercial pilot certificate in order to act as pilot in command of an aircraft involved in an aerial photography business. To reach that conclusion, the FAA examined whether the photography flights would be incidental to the pilot's business, and found that the "proposed aerial photography business is not an activity, completely unrelated to aviation activities, in which a pilot certificate would be irrelevant to the fundamental character of the business."

That last sentence in quotes is a mouthful, but in short it would seem to say that if there were alternate ways of gathering the GPS data you seek then flying would be incidental. (i.e. could you gather the same data using these receivers in a car?) If the equipment is aviation specific you might not be able to justify flying it as incidental.

As always, you would be wise to consult with an aviation attorney or local FSDO, especially if this will be an ongoing thing.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not convinced. Your argument would seemingly apply equally well to a flight where you are carrying around other photographers, where they take the pictures, and then you return to the same airport. Just like this case, the purpose is not to transport them, but to take pictures. But the FAA declares that case to be unequivocally illegal in the White interpretation. The part 135 bit is a red herring- private pilots are not allowed to do anything under the aerial photography or survey exceptions (described in part 91.501), unless one of the exceptions under part 61.113 also applies. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    May 2, 2023 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ In short, 61.113 is a restriction on the pilot and 91.501 talks about restrictions on the operation. Both have to apply in order for a private pilot to legally operate under part 91. 91.501(d) is good to read to see the difference- it describes a lot of things that are legal to be paid for under part 91 that are definitely not legal for a private pilot. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    May 2, 2023 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris, 91.501 applies only to "the operation of large airplanes of U.S. registry, turbojet-powered multiengine civil airplanes of U.S. registry, and fractional ownership program aircraft of U.S. registry". I.e., airplanes you need a type rating for, not typically flown by private pilots. Not applicable to renting a piston single or light twin. And yes, I agree that chartering other photographers around would not be incidental. $\endgroup$ May 2, 2023 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ The topic of being "incidental" does not come up in the White interpretation. If the photography is not incidental to the business, it's illegal whether or not other passengers are aboard (as described in the Perry interpretation you linked). The critical difference between the legal and illegal flights described in the White interpretation are whether passengers are carried. Since the phrase is "carry passengers or property," I don't see how carrying university property versus carrying passengers can be distinguished legally. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    May 2, 2023 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ 91.501 may only apply to large or turbojet powered planes, but it's also where the "aerial work" exception is mentioned in part 91. The section quoted in the White interpretation that mentions this exception, 135.1(b)(4), is no longer in the FARs at all. In any case, it's hard to see how anything from part 135 could possibly have relevance to a private pilot. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    May 2, 2023 at 5:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .