Flytenow expands on the trend that companies like Uber and Airbnb.com have popularized: Allowing consumers to connect directly with private individuals who have goods or services that they need, officials noted.
Flytenow passengers do not pay for tickets or for the pilot’s time, instead, they only share fuel and fee costs with the pilot.
This cost-sharing arrangement with private pilots and passengers has been allowed by the FAA since the 1960s. Pilots previously found people to cost-share with by word of mouth, phone, posting notes on bulletin boards in airports, by email, and various other means.
Flytenow simplified the process by allowing pilots to post a planned trip on a website to find people interested in sharing costs.
But the FAA determined earlier this year that the process of posting a planned trip on a website constituted advertising and that subjected the private pilots to the same regulations that pilots for a commercial airline like Delta would have to meet, so they forced Flytenow to shut down.
“This is a classic case of government overreaction to new technologies and innovative ideas. Instead of updating regulations to reflect the way Americans communicate today, the FAA is stifling innovation and silencing pilots who want to use the Internet to communicate their travel plans,” said Jon Riches, an attorney at the Goldwater Institute. “The FAA has essentially said that sharing flight expenses by posting a flyer on an airport bulletin board is okay, but sharing expenses by posting travel plans on the Internet is not.”
Flytenow attempted to work with the FAA to address the agency’s concerns about advertising. But the FAA couldn’t provide the company any guidance on ways to communicate that did not violate agency rules. When the FAA shut down Flytenow, the agency also said that the pilots were being compensated, even though the FAA itself has expressed said that expense sharing in any other context is not compensation, Flytenow officials noted.
The Goldwater Institute is representing Flytenow in its suit against the FAA. The Goldwater Institute is arguing that the FAA’s decision to shut down Flytenow violates the First Amendment and Due Process rights of the company, its owners and members, and that the agency’s rules are unconstitutionally vague because it cannot provide legally-required “fair warning” of what communication activities of private expense-sharing pilots are allowed or not.
The Goldwater Institute wants the FAA to update its regulations to allow private pilots to make cost-sharing arrangements via websites like Flytenow.com and to make allowances for other new innovations that will be developed in the future.
“All we’re asking is for the FAA to bring its regulations in line with the times so that new ideas in the aviation industry can take off,” said Riches.
Flytenow, Inc v. Federal Aviation Administration was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often considered the nation’s second highest court. A successful outcome in this case could have wide-ranging implications for the broader “sharing economy,” Goldwater Institute officials noted.