Did the FAA’s successful shutting down of plane sharing apps AirPooler and Flytenow kill off plane sharing in the United States?
Apparently not. Forbes reported earlier this week that BlackBird, an aircraft ride sharing company got a $10 million investment for its startup. The company is already operating its service, hooking up online customers with people who own private planes and take them places in them.
A similar operation, Flytenow, got shut down by the FAA a few years ago because, the FAA claimed, the operation violated FAA regulations on charter flights. Part 135 regulations, which govern charter flights, are tough and strictly enforced. The rationale behind them is that before a company offers aircraft transportation to people (or for cargo, for that matter) they must meet to have a high standard of operations. Flytenow appealed the lower courts’ upholding of the FAA’s action to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that body declined to hear the appeal, effectively killing the case and sealing Flytenow’s future—it is now out of business.
Will BlackBird’s business model set it up for acceptance by the regulators? It’s hard for us to see how. The company wants to sell rides to customers in other people’s airplanes with non-employee pilots flying the planes—the pilots are, according to BlackBird, commercial pilots or better with at least 500 hours total time, an instrument rating and proficiency in the airplane. BlackBird does a background check on the pilot. In essence, instead of the FAA determining the safety of the operation, as the FAA does with Part 135 operations, BlackBird does it. It’s not a process the FAA has ever approved of before to our knowledge.
We entered a flight on flyblackbird.com for a quote and were pleased to see we could fly from Ontario, California, to Oxnard, California, for around $100 a seat and a savings of about an hour and a half over driving the route. (The company is only set up for business in a few places around the country so far.) A sample flight on the company’s site shows a flight from San Francisco to Truckee, California, near Tahoe, for $120 and a time savings versus driving of more than three hours. Truckee, as an interesting side note, sits at around 6,000 feet elevation and is surrounded on all sides by the Sierras.
The issue is a polarizing one for pilots, some of whom believe they should be able to provide rides for paying customers without a 135 operations certificate, and others believe that the FAA should come down fast and hard on BlackBird.
The issue is complicated by the fact that such private plane sharing apps are legal in Europe.
We’ll keep you updated on the status of BlackBird and the FAA’s response, if any, to the startup.