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Appeals Court Rules FAA Can Shut Down Flight-Sharing Websites

December 19, 2015

Washington—Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration can shut down the “flight-sharing” website

“This is a huge blow to innovation and entrepreneurship in general aviation,” said Jon Riches, the national litigation director at the Goldwater Institute and the attorney representing Flytenow. Flytenow Inc., an innovative start-up business that uses the Internet to connect private pilots with passengers wishing to share travel plans and flight expenses, had sued the Federal Aviation Administration for shutting the website down in 2013.

Flytenow expands on the trend that companies like Uber and have popularized: allowing consumers to connect directly with private individuals who have goods or services that they need. 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 in 2013 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.

“Courts give extreme deference to regulatory agencies, often at the expense of innovation,” said Riches. “In this decision, the court relied on that regulatory deference, and the result is less choice for consumers, and less innovation in general aviation.”

In the lawsuit, Flytenow also said that its First Amendment rights, and the rights of the pilots using the site, were violated by the FAA. The Court determined that the speech was not protected because the agency had found that the speech was “illegal.”

“We think the court is wrong on this point as well. Flytenow pilots are engaged in truthful communications about lawful activity, and, as the U.S. Supreme Court has said time and again, this is protected speech,” said Riches.

The Goldwater Institute is reviewing the opinion for possible rehearing options and the possibility to petition the Supreme Court to hear the case.

A bill has been introduced in Congress to legalize flight-sharing websites like Flytenow. H.R. 3593, the Aviation Cost and Expenses Sharing Act, was introduced by Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ).


About Flytenow

Flytenow makes private flying accessible by pairing general aviation pilots with individuals who share a common destination. Flytenow makes it easy for pilots to share their costs with passengers coming along for the ride, making it cheaper for both pilots and riders to take to the skies. Learn more about Flytenow:

About the Goldwater Institute

The Goldwater Institute’s mission is to advance freedom and protect the Constitution. We research and develop ideas that help states use their constitutional powers to protect their citizens’ liberties. When governments overstep their constitutional authority, the Goldwater Institute defends citizens in court. Learn more at



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