Just because I have a driver's license doesn't mean I can competently drive the city bus you take to work in the morning. I may do alright for a while, but at some point, I'll likely run over a bunch of tourists in Times Square. The difference? The city bus driver holds a commercial driver's license, receives training and re-training and uses equipment required to be in higher state of repair than our automobiles.
Yet the proponents of so-called ride-sharing apps designed so recreational, non-professional pilots can offer flying services to strangers are using the argument that safety is not at risk and that the government is just trying to stifle innovation.
As someone who has waged battles against over-regulation and fully support competition and innovation, I have thought about this. And I disagree.
Companies such as Flytenow are wrong and, sadly, could be dead wrong. The Flytenow concept is not new, it's just repackaged to fit new technology. The FAA, followed by the federal courts, have rightly shut them down as illegal. The company is appealing. (Note: we're not talking about apps like JetSmarter, which only hires certified air carriers)
There are three basic ways passengers fly today. By far the largest way is to take a commercial airliner. Some, a smaller number, will fly on a FAA-licensed private charter or air taxi service. And a few have friends who are private pilots (the term for 'non-professional) who will take them for a ride to Catalina Island for lunch, which is perfectly legit. The passengers can even chip in to pay for the fuel.
In the first two examples, the pilots hold at least commercial pilot's license, which comes with more-demanding standards. The pilots have thousands of hours of flight time. They are tested and re-tested every few months by their companies and/or the FAA. They go through background checks and routine drug screenings. The planes they fly have extensive (and expensive) maintenance requirements. And the companies they work for carry insurance consistent with the risk. These pilots have substantial third party and government oversight,
The private pilot has little of that oversight. They could have as few as 40 hours. They are not required to be trained to fly in inclement weather and carry varying degrees of insurance. The private pilot can go his or her entire live and never meet an FAA inspector (just like when you get a driver's license-- it's a one-time test). And the planes, rightly so, have far less stringent maintenance requirements because they are supposed to be used in a far less-demanding environment.
Don't get me wrong: The vast majority of private pilots are well-trained, good pilots who take being in the cockpit seriously. And that's why they can take their friends, family and the family dog flying. They know their passengers and the passengers know them. But they also fly far fewer hours in far-less challenging weather than commercial pilots.
I'm entirely on-board with the sharing economy. I happily leave my shared office space, hop in an Uber, and hang out at an Airbnb apartment. But in each of those cases, we self-assess the risk of harm. In the case of aviation, it's not that straightforward, and the risk of disaster on a far greater scale is unfortunately a possibility.
Now, I know the following criticism will come: Andrew, you run an air taxi company and you don't want competition. It's a fair critique, but not accurate. I'm a big supporter of getting more people into private planes. And this would probably do just that. And those passengers often then look for quality (a literal 'flight to quality) and might come to a company like mine in the future. So we might actually benefit from so-called "ride sharing."
General aviation- on all levels- is safer than it has been in history. And it's very likely the government and the industry will have to make changes to support new technology and widen the way people can fly. But we need to think it through.
So go ahead and share your office, share your car ride home, and share your apartment. But please don't share a plane with a pilot who may not have the qualifications to get the job done at the highest levels of safety,