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The Fight for Flyte

February 13, 2016

Congress is taking up legislation that would eliminate regulatory barriers that have preventing private pilots from using the Internet to communicate and engage in the broader sharing economy.

Innovative technologies that connect service providers directly to consumers are changing the way people live, work, and travel.  From Uber and Lyft in the transportation industry to Airbnb in the hospitality industry, people are using the power of technology to connect with one another and trade goods and services in a way that has historically been neither feasible nor cost effective.  In the process, consumers are getting access to desired products and services at a lower cost and pioneering businesses and service providers are reaching markets they would not otherwise have reached.  Unfortunately, at the same time, government regulators are using antiquated or incongruent rules – often at the behest of large, incumbent industries that fear competition – to shut down new, innovative businesses.

The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is obstructing such progress in the world of general aviation.  In an unprecedented regulatory order issued to Flytenow, Inc., a pioneering startup company, the FAA has essentially banned private pilots from using the Internet to communicate their travel plans.

Using an Internet-based platform, Flytenow, and other flight sharing companies, connect travelers looking for an affordable and novel mode of transportation to private pilots wishing to share travel plans and trip expenses.

Expense-sharing pilots and passengers have been able to connect with one another using a wide variety of platforms since the beginning of general aviation, including e-mail, telephone, word of mouth, and other common forms of communication.  For example, pilots have traditionally posted their planned flights on local airport bulletin boards, or in other community spaces, so that a passerby interested in joining the flight can contact the pilot and share the flight costs in accordance with longstanding FAA rules and regulations.

Flight sharing companies like Flytenow simply applied this framework to the digital age by allowing pilots to connect with passengers on the Internet.

The FAA, however, has determined that using the Internet to communicate is commercial advertising, and as a result, has stopped flight sharing operations before they have a chance to take off.  In other words, according to the FAA, sharing expenses by posting a flyer on an airport bulletin board is okay, but sharing expenses by posting travel plans on the Internet is not.

This legislation would clarify that private pilots are free to communicate with their passengers using any form of communication they desire in order to facilitate flight sharing.  In other words, this bill would bring flight sharing, a practice that has occurred since the beginning of general aviation, into the 21st Century.

Watch debate on the bill here.



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