Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ride-Sharing For Pilots Is No Flight Of Fancy

A Supreme Court decision to review Flytenow v. FAA could make airplane flight-sharing an option for Americans.


By Jonathan Riches and Thomas P. Gross
The Wall Street Journal
November 16, 2016

From Uber to Airbnb, the “sharing economy” is revolutionizing industries by letting companies connect directly with consumers. If the Supreme Court decides to review Flytenow v. FAA, Americans could benefit from cost-sharing in the airline industry.

In late 2014 the Federal Aviation Administration banned private pilots from communicating travel plans and sharing flight expenses over the internet. That order shut down Flytenow, a startup that connected pilots and cost-sharing passengers online.

Around the same time, the European Aviation Safety Agency found compelling reasons to allow the very same cost-sharing operations in Europe. On Aug. 26, the agency authorized cost-sharing for general aviation flights in 32 countries. At least two companies similar to Flytenow, called Wingly and Off We Fly, now operate in the European Union.

In American aviation, cost-sharing isn’t a new thing. For over 50 years the FAA has allowed pilots and passengers to communicate about cost-sharing via email and phone as well as by posting notices on airport bulletin boards.

With seed money from Silicon Valley, Flytenow brought that practice into the digital age. And it was working until the FAA shut down the startup. The agency claimed that if a private pilot flying a four-passenger airplane used Flytenow to communicate travel plans and find people to share his expenses, that pilot should be regulated as a commercial flight operation.

Yet the FAA ignored a key difference between commercial and general aviation: Commercial pilots provide services to the public for profit; Flytenow pilots merely share expenses. By regulation, flight-sharing pilots must pay at least a pro rata share of flight expenses, so they can never earn a profit. The FAA’s conclusion also missed that pilots have a First Amendment right to communicate their noncommercial travel plans with others, even over the internet.

The FAA’s job is to ensure safety. Yet its rationale for deeming Flytenow dangerous is based on pre-internet policies. Web-based flight-sharing arrangements, where pilots are screened, and their experience and credentials are displayed for potential passengers, are actually safer than simply posting flight times on an airport bulletin board.

The Goldwater Institute challenged the FAA’s legal interpretation on behalf of Flytenow and the Supreme Court is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether to review the case. Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has passed an amendment to its FAA reauthorization bill that would authorize web-facilitated flight sharing.

The Flytenow case presents an opportunity for the Supreme Court and Congress to say consumers and service providers should be free to choose which innovations work for them. If Europe can ensure the safety of these tech innovations, then so can the U.S.


Article Link To The Wall Street Journal: