WASHINGTON D.C. — Yesterday, TechFreedom and the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief in support of FlyteNow’s suit against the FAA’s ruling that forced the startup to shut down a flightsharing platform. Flytenow allowed private pilots to share the cost of flying with passengers going to the same destination by connecting them online. The brief urges the Supreme Court to hear an appeal filed by the company.
The brief states:
Flytenow’s goal was to allow private pilots to fly more for less money by making greater use of the FAA’s compensation exemption for cost-sharing when pilots and passengers share a bona fide common purpose. This practice has been permissible for decades, but because Flytenow was trying to connect private pilots and would-be passengers through the Internet—rather than through a bulletin board—the FAA deems this impermissible.
While pilots without a commercial license may not seek compensation for carrying passengers, they are allowed to split costs with others they find traveling for a similar purpose, typically connecting through word-of-mouth or physical bulletin boards.
The FAA found that FlyteNow’s modernization of this practice through its digital platform transformed participating pilots into common carriers, who require commercial pilot licenses—and thus forced FlyteNow to shut down. But common law has consistently defined common carriers as those who hold themselves out indiscriminately for public hire, and FlyteNow’s service is restricted to its members and allows pilots to refuse passengers for any reason or no reason at all.
“FlyteNow’s business model is simply an extension of a long-established system into the digital age,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “The D.C. Circuit was wrong to grant such broad deference to the FAA’s interpretation of a term that is clearly defined in common law. The lower court has placed a major obstacle in the way of innovation in both the sharing economy and the flight industry, and the Supreme Court has an obligation to remove that obstacle. When the courts give agencies such broad deference to interpret well-established concepts like common carriage, they surrender any meaningful role in scrutinizing how regulators respond to innovators like FlyteNow.”