The "Uber of the Sky" Grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration


Zenon Evans wrote back in April about a really cool, helpful new service called Airpooler. As he wrote:

AirPooler allows private pilots to post listings about upcoming trips, requiring them to input important information about their own credentials and experience and their plane's weight limits. "Most pilots listing flights on AirPooler fly small single-engine piston airplanes that carry from 2 to 4 passengers," explains AirPooler. For passengers, requesting a ride is no harder than ordering a ticket on a commercial flight, and one can even send questions to the pilot beforehand….

the service regulates itself, notes BetaBoston, by "only working with pilots who are members of flying clubs like East Coast or Associated Pilots," which "have processes in place for vetting pilots, and ensuring the airworthiness of the planes."

Right now, the service lists a round-trip flight from Palo Alto, California to Sacramento this weekend for under $180. A comparable economy ticket from United Airlines with such short notice is over $800.

But the Federal Aviation Administration has never allowed private pilots to get paid to carry passengers like that; they can only theoretically be recompensed for costs. So last week, Endgaget sadly reports, the FAA put the kibosh on the service:

Thanks to a 1963 decision, such sharing is legal if done by word of mouth or a notice board, provided the pilot only asks for a fair share of the expenses. However, in a rather confusing letter, the regulator told Airpooler that its service violates the spirit of that ruling. Instead of offering a bonafide "joint venture with a common purpose," participating pilots are "holding out to transport passengers for compensation." That means unless you have a commercial ATP or CPL license, using those services is DOA.

The FAA's party-pooping letter.

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  1. private pilates

    That Mountain Dew I snorted out my nose did NOT feel good.

    1. Jesus faced a public Pilate; we all now have to endure many private Pilates. Is this some sort of socialist message?

      Interesting that spellcheck allows, thanks to the workout regimen.

      1. Spellcheck doesn’t allow, autocorrect enforces.

        Pilots? Nope, you mean pilates. Late? Latte. Price? Prius. Phone? iPhone.

        It’s all part of the gentrification of the language.

        1. I recall wondering when automated toilets came out whether they’d force us to behave differently during the act of waste elimination. Now it’s machines controlling how we communicate. Is there no end to this madness?

    2. Sorry bout the nose. Yeah, alas it was one of those mistakes spellcheck is gonna miss. How it was made to begin with, I can’t begin to explain. It’s fixed now.

      1. Pilats – Pilates

        We know that certain parts of the US say “pilats” instead of “pilots”?

  2. Every time I see someone pursuing their dream, or make a living, or do something innovative, I know that Leviathan will be there soon to shit all over it.

    1. I’m not seeing flying cars anywhere on the horizon. I think now I at last understand why.

      1. Can you imagine the endless layers of bullshit you’d have to go through to get a flying car to market? NHTSA and FAA bullshit. It’s impossible.

      2. Flying cars have been in the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog for a few years already. You can also order on Terrafugia.com.

  3. OT: Questions about recent television programs.

    1. Is Extant worth watching? I’ve seen a couple episodes which didn’t really grab me. Having not watched it from the beginning, am I missing anything?
    2. How about Under the Dome? I’ve read the synopsis of season 1 and it seemed mildly interesting. Is it worth watching?

    1. Extant is pretty cool. Not for the pregnant astronaut possibly carrying an alien baby storyline, but for the android child she and her mad scientist husband are raising as their own son.

      Under the Dome is dreadful.

    2. I think extant is pretty good.

  4. Forcing new enterprises to operate under 1963 regulations ought to be great for fostering innovation…

    1. Can’t they just rig up the app to project onto an actual wooden board, so it meets the letter of the law (being posted on a board)?

      1. Genius!

  5. And riddle me how they are gonna enforce this?

    1. Maybe the military has some surplus SAMs to give away…

      1. I thought Marshall Guliani snapped all those up?

    2. And riddle me how they are gonna enforce this?

      Two guys meeting in a back alley discussing cash-money terms for a trip in his private plane, unmpossible.

      A website which connects people together which accessible by the general public and has a nicely ordered list of pilots to be connected with passengers, easy peasy.

      1. Can’t be that easy. Uber and AirBnB operate illegally in multiple jurisdictions. This will be the first time the sharing economy tussles with a federal agency. Should be interesting.

        1. I can see pilots offering to transport passengers for their share of the “costs” using hollywood accounting, or not disclosing how much up front in the listing.

        2. This company is tiny (it’s still just one guy IIRC) and there’s basically one big regulator. And his product is a bit more niche.

          AirBnB and Uber win by using the revenues from more friendly jurisdictions to finance the fines they get in hostile areas.

          Not necessarily impossible, but much harder for the guy to build up the critical mass he needs to push the FAA in the right direction.

  6. Right now, the service lists a round-trip flight from Palo Alto, California to Sacramento this weekend for under $180. A comparable economy ticket from United Airlines with such short notice is over $800.

    This is the reason for the FAA stepping in right here.

  7. In a way this is more depressing than the police response in Ferguson. At least there you can make the argument that protesters are being disruptive, if not downright destructive. It’s a question of the appropriate level of response, not whether a response is necessary.

    This right here is just some fuckwad agency stopping people from innovating and creating wealth and making life generally better and cooler for the rest of us. Assholes.

    1. This right here is just some fuckwad agency stopping people from innovating and creating wealth and making life generally better and cooler for the rest of us. Assholes.

      When it comes to the economy, that’s all the government does.

      Other than reacting to force and fraud, enforcing property right and contracts, and providing courts for resolving disputes, everything government does with regards to the economy causes harm. Without exception.

  8. The rules about using your personal airplane for business travel and getting reimbursed for your expenses by your employer are also predictably ridiculous.

  9. Once upon a time America was a free country where you were free to do anything that was not explicitly prohibited.

    No you may only do that which is allowed.

    What happened?

    1. Progress!

    2. Precisely – that which is not implicitly allowed, is expressly forbidden.

  10. Ah – I see the Cleveland Not Racists are playing the Washington Racists. I believe I will watch, because I am such an American that I will even watch pre-season football.

    I embrace my loserness. So there.

  11. “A young woman has been legally forced to give birth by caesarean section after being denied an abortion in Ireland, in a case experts say exposes flaws in recent reform meant to allow limited terminations.

    The woman, who is an immigrant and cannot be named for legal reasons, was refused an abortion even though at eight weeks she demanded a termination, claiming she was suicidal.

    After she then threatened a hunger strike to protest the decision, local health authorities obtained a court order to deliver the baby prematurely ? at around 25 weeks according to some reports ? to ensure its safety. The infant has been placed in care.”


    1. “Pro-life” they call themselves.

    2. Oh, let me sob myself to sleep about this. The woman threatened to kill herself because she was not allowed to murder her child. Well, that’s a sympathetic figure we should all rally around. I bet that if you visit your local prison, you’ll find lots of folks who are super sad that they’re not allowed to kill more people. Where’s their pity party?

  12. I suspect that this is largely because of the tax issue. Commercial flights are subject to enormous passenger and other taxes that general aviation is not.

    Note a similar situation that occurs with Warren Buffett’s NetJets, which essentially is a timeshare for private planes, enabling them to evade the ticket tax. (Which the IRS said was illegal for many years, though he got a friendly Congress to overrule the IRS.)

  13. Just call it a “free flying lesson” and expect a tip to cover the time and fuel.
    BIG-BROTHER,m leave us alone!

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