FAA interpretation of cost-sharing flights raises cautionary flags

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A recent ruling by the FAA regarding share-the-expense rides raises a cautionary flag for private pilots to be sure they are in compliance with not-for-hire regulations. The FAA issued a legal interpretation after several groups launched programs that brought together people wanting to travel to a particular place and pilots intending to go to the same location.

In brief, the FAA’s interpretation of regulations permits pilots to accept payment for a share of expenses so long as both the pilot and parties involved as passengers are traveling to a common destination and the pilot does not pay less than the pro rata share of expenses involving only fuel, oil, airport expenses, or rental fees. If a pilot accepts more than a pro rata share of expenses, he or she is in violation of FAA regulations.

Rob Hackman of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said this ruling “is a good reminder to all pilots that they need to be fully versed in the regulations” to avoid trouble. He added that pilots may continue to share some costs of a flight, but reimbursement must fall in strict conditions.

At the Experimental Aircraft Association, Dick Knapinski commented that the rule has served well for many years and this interpretation should not mean a pilot can’t take a friend along for the ride and accept a share of the costs.

FAA regulations Part 61.113 referring to private pilot privileges and limitations state the following:

(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b) through (h) of this section, no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire, nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.

(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.

(c) A pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.

(d) A private pilot may act as pilot in command of a charitable, nonprofit or community event flight described in 91.146, if the sponsor and pilot comply with the requirements of 91.146.

(e) A private pilot may be reimbursed for aircraft operating expenses that are directly related to search and rescue operations, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees, and the operation is sanctioned and under the direction and control of (1) a local, state, or federal agency or (2) an organization that conducts search and rescue operations.

(f) A private pilot may act as an aircraft salesman and who has at least 200 hours of logged flight time may demonstrate an aircraft in flight to a prospective buyer.

(g) A private pilot who meets the requirements of 61.169 may act as pilot in command of an aircraft towing a glider or unpowered ultralight vehicle.

(h) A private pilot may act as pilot in command for the purpose of conducting a production flight test in a light-sport aircraft intended for certification in the light-sport category under 21.190 in this chapter, provided that (1) the aircraft is a powered parachute or a weight-shift-control aircraft, (2) The person has at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time in the category and class of aircraft, and (3) The person is familiar with the processes and procedures applicable to the conduct of production flight setting, to include operations conducted under a special flight permit and any associated operating limitations.

According to FAA officials, the recent ruling is not intended to restrict the proper sharing of expenses, but rather to stop what the FAA considers compensation for hire, which requires compliance with a different section of the federal air regulations.

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