Flight sharing may be legalized in the U.S. this year with a new bill introduced to Congress. Flight sharing is a way for private pilots to offer empty seats in airplanes to strangers who want to fly the same route. It helps the pilots cover the rather high costs of equipment and fuel. And it gives passengers an opportunity to fly in a private airplane at a fraction of what it would normally cost.
Flight sharing is growing in popularity in Europe. But the FAA shut it down in the U.S. in 2015. In an odd move, the FAA ruled that flight sharing isn’t illegal, but offering empty seats to strangers who help cover the cost of the trip makes a pilot a “common carrier.” And this means the pilot needs significant additional licensing and insurance. Essentially this kills the cost sharing benefits of flight sharing for private pilots.
In 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case against the FAA challenging this flight sharing prohibition. It seemed like flight sharing was dead. But now a Utah Senator has introduced the Aviation Empowerment Act, which would legalize flight sharing.
Some passengers may want to opt for commercial flights over flight sharing; small aircraft have a far worse safety record than large commercial airplanes. But this battle over flight regulations is not about safety or consumer protection. I hope to see flight sharing legalized in the United States in 2018.