On Jan. 9, 2017, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by Flytenow, a start-up business that uses the Internet to connect private pilots with passengers wishing to share flight expenses.
Flytenow expands on “sharing economy” services that companies like Uber and Airbnb have popularized: Websites or mobile applications allowing consumers to connect directly with private service providers.
Flytenow passengers do not pay for tickets or for the pilot’s time. Instead, they share fuel and fee costs with the pilot.
This would have been the first “sharing-economy” case the Supreme Court considered, according to officials with the Goldwater Institute, who submitted the case to the court.
This cost-sharing arrangement between private pilots and passengers has been allowed by the FAA since the 1960s, Goldwater Institute officials noted. Pilots previously found people to cost-share with by word of mouth, phone, posting notes on bulletin boards in airports, and various other means.
“Flytenow simplified the process by allowing pilots to post a preplanned trip on a website for passengers interested in sharing costs,” officials said in a prepared release. “But the FAA determined that the process of posting a planned trip on a website constituted advertising and that subjected the pilots to the same onerous regulations that pilots for a commercial airline like Delta would have to meet. This forced Flytenow to shut down.”
“The Supreme Court missed an opportunity today to correct an error made by the FAA and lower courts that will now deprive millions of Americans of a unique, convenient, and affordable travel option,” said Jon Riches, the director of national litigation and general counsel for the Goldwater Institute, and the attorney representing Flytenow. “What’s more, the court could have offered direction to lower courts that protects the First Amendment rights of people using other sharing economy platforms, like Uber and Airbnb. Hopefully the FAA will reverse its position on this issue, and hopefully the court will decide in another case to examine the important constitutional issues raised.”
Several members of Congress, led by Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, have sponsored legislation that would explicitly authorize internet-facilitated flight cost-sharing.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision this morning and we will be continuing our efforts in Congress to overturn the FAA’s ban on online flight sharing,” said Matt Voska, a co-founder of Flytenow.
Read more about Flytenow v. FAA here.