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Top Feds Weigh In On Expense-Sharing Flights

GAO report addresses an ongoing dilemma for GA pilots

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Can you ask a friend to share the expenses of a flight? According to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), it depends in large part on how you met your “friend.”

The 28-page report concludes that…it’s complicated. The GAO acknowledges the advantages of pilots being able to share costs with passengers. By shaving costs, pilots could fly more, gain experience and proficiency, stimulate business for GA support businesses such as FBOs and repair shops, and help stimulate the pilot population at a time there is a pilot shortage.

But that cost-sharing cannot take on the form of profit-driven “common carriage.” Passengers have a right to expect a commonly accepted level of safety if they are paying for a ride. At some point, asking passengers to kick in for gas money morphs into a commercial enterprise, and for that, you need a significantly higher level of training, maintenance and operational oversight. The thorny question is, when do you cross the line?

A key phrase in determining that tipping point is whether or not the pilot is “holding out” an offer to fly for money. One controversial dividing line seems to be using the internet to arrange the flights. But does that mean that if you send your softball teammate an email or Facebook message asking if he’d like to go flying, you’re “holding out” your services?

Pilots argue that using the internet is an extension of posting a notice on the airport bulletin board looking for flying buddies. The FAA—and a lot of Part 135 charter operators objecting to undercut pricing for flights—believe it’s too great of an extension.

Have a look at the report. It’s an interesting presentation of what is a complex moral and economic puzzle.

 

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