I was looking over some of the stories via our Facebook page and noticed one with the headline, “China expected to produce a half-million new pilots in the next 20 years.” This figure is just 100,000 less than the entire number of pilots we have in the United States right now. Despite my reservations about the enormous trade deficit, massive purchases of U.S. companies by the Chinese and the intentional devaluing of the yen, I would like to see opportunity in this demand. Economically speaking, it will take great political and personal effort to level the playing field with China. But, if you simply look at a population density map it becomes clear to see the opportunities, not to mention the challenges.
As many of you know, I have a heart for small business; not just because I own one, but it really “jazzes me” to meet the people pursuing what I call the “American Dream.” I had the opportunity to do business with Matthew Libby, owner of Buckhorn Discount Optical (firstname.lastname@example.org). As you know it is critical for pilots to have good vision and Libby takes pride in making sure his customers vision is “spot on.” In fact, he checked my cheap online prescription glasses and determined that they were not correct dimensionally and optically. Fortunately, he recommended a nice new pair of Ray Bans that will keep me safe while flying. In a future blog we will show you a behind the scenes look at the eyeglass making process and some words of wisdom regarding protecting pilot vision.
WILL THE FAA APPROVE “PLANE-SHARING” AIRCRAFT FLYING PROGRAMS?
Technology is making the world of regulation a large pain in the hind-end for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As profiled in the article, “The FAA Decides if Plane-Sharing Apps are Legal,”* Internet companies such as Aeropooler and Flytenow that have set up an internet website (and apps) to offer empty seats on primarily small personal aircraft that some call “plane-sharing.” To remain legal, the seats are sold at a rate that typically covers the pro-rata cost for fuel, oil, tie-down, fees, etc. outlined in 14 CFR 61.113(a) – (d)**, referred to as the “sharing of expenses” for non-commercial flights rule. The companies that arrange cost-sharing of empty seats do charge a small fee for their services. However, in light of the possible legal ramifications, many such companies are seeking FAA clarifications to ensure they are compliant with the regulations. Will such programs ultimately be successful and, more importantly, help or hinder aviation?
Minus all of the legal gymnastics, my initial reaction is that this concept is a novel idea. With 10 Million less flight hours being flown in the last ten years (FAA 2000-2010), any thinking “outside of the box” is welcomed in order to stimulate flight activity. However, as a pilot looking to be a passenger (which is probably not the norm) the prospect of jumping into an unfamiliar aircraft with a pilot that I don’t know makes me nervous. Call it a personal hang-up, but willingly placing myself in the back seat of any old aircraft is a difficult obstacle to overcome.***
The last time I sat in the back of an aircraft was on a coastal air tour that I was coordinating when my ride, a Cessna Conquest II, was called out for another mission. This left me stranded needing to find another ride. One of the air tour pilots that I knew, but had never flown with previously, offered to give me a ride. As a flight instructor this was no big deal. The fellow owned a Piper Lance, which I was more than comfortable with. Worst case scenario, if things “went south,” I could easily take over the controls. Much to my surprise I arrived at the aircraft to find the pilot’s wife in the co-pilot seat. I made a weak attempt to get into the front seat by saying, “Oh, I thought I was riding up front to help with the flight duties?” My pilot friend said, “You will have to fight her for the front seat.” I got the hint and took my seat in the back of the aircraft. As I said, it’s a personal hang-up of mine to be in this position because the flight went smoothly and the pilot did a fine job.
In this same vein, as my personal story, some people might be concerned about a non-pilot randomly jumping into any old private aircraft with who-knows what kind of pilot at the wheel. FAA regulations are designed to protect the general public via commercial flight regulations. However, if the non-pilot is aware of the risk then I don’t see the need for the government unwittingly trying to save a consenting adult.
Another concern of the FAA and air charter companies is that plane-sharing could cut into legitimate business. Charter companies complain that the multitude of illegal charters is rampant and plane-sharing would further complicate matters. I haven’t seen any data on estimates of illegal charter activity, but do respect companies that go through the very cumbersome FAA requirements to be certified as a (FAR) 135 charter business. The plane-sharing sites state that they have restrictions in place to prevent illegal charters from happening, such as flight frequency and cancellation metrics.
There are also sites dedicated to exclusively getting pilots together to share expenses. This is a great idea to have a venue where pilots can meet and fly with other pilots. However, this might speak to the increasing impersonal nature of the local airport. I see less of pilots hanging out at the airport and more folks driving their cars out to the ramp for a quick pre-flight blasting-off to destinations unknown. While some of this behavior is a sad sign of the times, a couple of FBOs that I recently visited bluntly asked, “What are you doing here?” My response is typically, “I came all this way just to see your smiling faces,” and proceed to make myself comfortable at the airport that federal funds (my tax money) paid for. If I were buying 500 gallons of Jet A, their response would most likely be different. Note to self: Remember this when I’m in my next Jet A guzzling turboprop looking for fuel. Anyway, before we get too far off topic I will re-direct.
While many of the legal issues have to be worked out what I really like about the USA is the creative nature in which we counteract challenging circumstances, such as defraying the high cost of flying. For all the faults of the Internet it’s still a great place for small business to put out great ideas to see how they work in the marketplace.