planesharingFuse/ThinkStock

FAA says Lyft-like platforms for private planes are illegal

Private plane pilots and the high-flying ballers who book seats on their aircraft can no longer use Lyft-like platforms to buy and sell seats. The Federal Aviation Administration put the kibosh on startups that let pilots advertise rides on their tiny planes in exchange for gas money. I don’t know about you, but I hate sharing my jets anyway.

Turns out sharing planes and sharing cars are wildly different. Who’d have thought? The FAA clarified its rules on Friday in response to a request from AirPooler, one of the startups trying to become the Uber for planes. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company offers a carpooling-like service where pilots can list open seats on their private planes. If you’re heading the same way, you can book a seat and contribute cash to offset the pilot’s expenses.

airpooler

In some cases, booking a flight on AirPooler is cheaper than driving to your destination, the company says.

While AirPooler doesn’t function the same way a typical airline does, the FAA said its service veered too far into commercial territory and pilots would need a special type of license to sell seats on their aircraft. That doesn’t mean you can’t catch a ride on a private plane—you just can’t book it online the way you would an Uber black car.

“Private pilots as a general rule may not act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire,” the FAA said in a copy of the letter to AirPooler obtained by TechCrunch.

Pilots must have airline transport pilot certificates or commercial pilots’ licenses to accept payment for flights, the FAA said.

The FAA’s clarification is bad news for startups trying to carve out their own niche in the sharing economy, but in the best interest for passengers who are putting their lives in the hands of pilots without proper licenses. While plane-sharing hasn’t really taken off the way ride-sharing has, companies like AirPooler, Flytenow, and SkyPool have attempted to bring costs down for pilots and passengers by bringing carpooling to the sky.

AirPooler cofounder and CEO Steve Lewis told the Boston Globe’s tech blog BetaBoston that he isn’t giving up, and plans to make his case to regulators soon. But unless the FAA carves out a new category for those companies, it looks like plane-sharing’s brief existence has been snuffed out.

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