It’s common to hear the phrase “Uber for …” being used to describe startups that essentially offer a similar service to the popular ride hailing app, and that’s precisely what was used for Flytenow, a startup that connected private pilots with passengers with the service being referred to as “Uber for planes.” It has had some troubles with the Federal Aviation Administration which has been successful in grounding the service for the foreseeable future at least.
The aviation industry has had some semblance of a sharing economy well before the likes of Uber and Airbnb emerged on the scene, it was always possible to get seats on empty legs of private aircraft. You share the jet with other passengers who are going the same way yet pass significantly less than what it would cost to charter the entire plane.
Flytenow took that concept one step further by directly connecting passengers with private pilots, eliminating the role of booking agencies or private charter firms. Soon after its launch in 2014 FAA said that the startup was operating its service outside regulations and since then the two have been locked in a legal battle.
Flytenow works by connecting passengers with pilots who share their flight plans and potential passengers can then decide to hop onboard if they’re going in the same direction. Passengers don’t compensate pilots for their service rather they just split the cost of the journey with them. FAA maintains that it’s this method which makes this service contrary to Federal Aviation Act of 1958 which require that pilots be compensated for services so that they can continue to operate with a commercial license, aside from being contrary to several other regulations.
On the other hand the service says that this isn’t the case, pointing out that common law dictates that common carriers are those that make a profit, pilots operating with Flytenow don’t turn a profit, since they’re only splitting the costs of the journey which is why it’s wrong to consider them common carriers.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit doesn’t agree with that reasoning though, ruling that private pilots operating with Flytenow are in the same league as commercial pilots and are subject to the same regulations. So for now Flytenow can no longer connect passengers with private pilots but company co-founder Alan Guichard does say that they’re mulling over filing an appeal against this decision of the court.
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