FAA Grounds Uber of the Sky

Uber is not only fast and convenient it spreads the capital cost of an automobile over a large group of people, thereby increasing efficiency. A typical general aviation aircraft costs ten times or more the price of an automobile so the case for an Uber of the sky is strong. Indeed, shortly after the Wright Brothers flew, informal ride-sharing bulletin jetsonsboards and word of mouth connected pilots with passengers who wanted to hitch a ride and were willing to share the cost.

Flytenow created an app to more easily connect pilots to “passengers” who would pay a share of the “cost” (the reason for the quotes will become clear) but was shut down by the FAA. Flytenow argued that they were simply modernizing the bulletin board system but the FAA worried that they were doing an end run around regulation. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 requires pilots who are being compensated for their services to have a commercial license. Flytenow was shut down.

Jared Meyer interviewed the founders:

Jared Meyer: …from what I understand, it is still completely legal to find people to share flights (and their costs) by using old-fashioned tools such as bulletin boards or telephone calls. Why does the FAA not allow people to use peer-to-peer online interaction to make the process much more efficient and inclusive?

Alan Guichard: You’re exactly right. Pilots have always been allowed to share flights as long as the pilot and the passenger share a common purpose, which they clearly have on an online bulletin board such as Flytenow. The FAA’s concern is that online interaction will lead to sharing beyond what they refer to as “friends and acquaintances.”

For example, the FAA explained that advertising a shared flight on Facebook would be permissible if a person only had a few friends, but that the same flight would transform the pilot into Delta or American Airlines if he or she had “thousands” of friends.

An Uber of the sky would increase the number of private flights and put pressure on the airlines. It would also create some safety issues. Right now only the rich regularly risk their life in a small airplane. Do we want more people to have access? It’s debatable but there is certainly some level of safety where we would want more passenger-carrying small-aircraft. But which is chicken and which is egg? Safety doesn’t just happen–safety is in part an endogenous consequence of investment and demand. How will we get flying cars if we restrict investment?

Comments

Doesn't NetJets try to classify itself as sort of a sharing (more timeshare, I think) in order to avoid FAA taxes on commercial flights? And didn't the IRS strongly disagree with that, and repeatedly try to collect taxes, until Warren Buffet got Congress to put his preferred interpretation into law?

The difference here seems to be that NetJets pilots are commercially licensed, while here they could just be any private pilot with a plane.

General aviation is a tricky subject; similar in a way to crowd funding.
After all, the availability of a market puts additional pressures on the pilot,
encouraging them to see the plane as a profit center rather than entertainment,
and encouraging them to fly under more difficult conditions.

As for flying cars, given the safety of current cars, do we really want them in the air, going very very fast?
The problems flying cars are really meant to solve (traffic) are best solved
with self-driving cars and/or mass transit, both firmly on the ground (if not under it).

"The problems X are really meant to solve (Y) are best solved with Z."

This is the kind of question markets are much better at resolving than central planners.

The ones that don't crash into your house?

Realistically, the probability of a GA aircraft crashing into your house is zero. The risk is fully born by the participants in the flight.

That's true, but much higher if you live near an airport.

_____ "After all, the availability of a market puts additional pressures..."

Yes, markets are so troublesome. Wise and noble Potomac bureaucrats are always required to control our markets and avoid calamity.

Only the rich could fly commercial airlines, prior to U.S. airline deregulation-- Federal bureaucrats had long protected average Americans from low ticket prices and crowded airliners/airports.

Same thing here-- FAA is now bravely protecting average Americans from cheaper and more convenient air travel options. Markets are extremely dangerous. Consumer decisions and private economic agreements must always be sharply restricted by government politicians --- of course, these same ignorant consumers/citizens are always somehow fully trusted to elect only the best & brightest politicians.

Sarcastically saying the opposite of what you think is a great way to present an argument.

It exposes the hilarious absurdity of the opponent's arguments. I like it.

Yeah what Clement stated was fine. Your comment however was passive aggressive/ Vaginal.

General aviation aircraft are much safer than cars, to the point it is hard to conceive that Alex could be so misinformed as to think it could create safety issues. I guess there could be some question as to if flying cars are more like aircraft (much safer) or more like cars (the same level of safety). I think it would be the former, since you have much wider separation between vehicles and obstacles in three dimensions.

Uh, no, that's not right. Flying commercial is much safer than driving, but the opposite is true for GA aircraft (it's something on the order of 20X more dangerous than driving).

Dan, you're either delusional or don't know much about GA. I say that as an instrument rated pilot with 300 hours in 8 different aircraft.

The statistics clearly show that per passenger mile even the Cessna Skyhawk, the general aviation plane with the best safety record, has a death rate ten times that of automobile travel. Considering how much more raw ability and training are required to obtain a pilot's license relative to a driver's license, and the fact that general aviation pilots rarely fly drunk or in bad weather, that's extraordinary. The ratio to the per-passenger-mile death rate in automobiles driven by licensed pilots is probably a hundred times or more.

Moreover, one of the leading causes of fatal general aviation accidents is "get-home-itis", leading pilots without IFR ratings to continue flight into worsening weather conditions until they get into a situation they can't handle. The pressures on pilots who have taken money to fly people on a commercial basis will inevitably lead to a great increase in such accidents. Even for IFR-rated pilots, there would be pressure to continue flight into conditions beyond their capabilities or those of their aircraft, destination airport ceilings too low for safe landing, or icing conditions.

Current FAA regulations help prevent people from getting themselves into situations like this by restricting the size of the "friends and family" set a pilot might share expenses with sufficiently that it is impractical to try to make a business out of flying those people around.

Although the URL below is posted this elsewhere in this comment thread, it is so very relevant I'll post it here, too.
http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/safety

Suppose the FAA allowed Flytenow to continue operating but said that pilots without commercial licenses could only offer their services to white passengers; they would be required to refuse service to black passengers. Would such a system be discriminatory against blacks? I think just about everyone would agree that it would be. No one would say that the system would actually be discriminatory against whites because, while blacks would be "protected" from flying with commercially unlicensed pilots, whites would be left exposed to all of the presumed safety issues. This way of looking at it helps us understand whether a particular regulation really "protects" consumers or just limits their choices. Effectively, by prohibiting everyone from flying with Flytenow, the FAA's ruling puts people of all races in the situation that they would be in if they were on the *disfavored* side of discrimination.

Suppose the FAA allowed Flytenow to continue operating but said that pilots without commercial licenses could only offer their services to white passengers; they would be required to refuse service to black passengers. Would such a system be discriminatory against blacks? I think just about everyone would agree that it would be.

Well duh--the arbitrary line-drawing is sort of a giveaway that the intent is discriminatory rather than public-spirited. But in the absence of such arbitrary line drawing, I'm not sure what conclusions we're supposed to draw from your non sequitur.

"But in the absence of such arbitrary line drawing, "

The FAA is also arbitrarily drawing a line.

Alan Guichard: You’re exactly right. Pilots have always been allowed to share flights as long as the pilot and the passenger share a common purpose, which they clearly have on an online bulletin board such as Flytenow. The FAA’s concern is that online interaction will lead to sharing beyond what they refer to as “friends and acquaintances.”

The FAA’s concern is that online interaction will lead to sharing beyond what they refer to as “friends and acquaintances.”

It's "arbitrary" to draw the line over a concern so apparent your opponents can see and acknowledge it?

I suppose I may need to update my dictionary.

"I suppose I may need to update my dictionary."

Yes, I agree.

It's pretty clear that the current bulletin board posting system extends beyond “friends and acquaintances.”

It’s pretty clear that the current bulletin board posting system extends beyond “friends and acquaintances.”

Does it extend beyond "friend and acquaintances" at scale? Does it do so at a large enough scale that it would be cost-effective to bother combating?

Or do you just think that failing to stamp out every instantiation of a perceived ill demonstrates the Government cares to little to justify stamping out any instantiation?

You have missed the point. Of course it is discriminatory. In the hypothetical it was designed to be. But against whom, blacks or whites? An equally interesting question relates to how this rather obvious fact eluded you.

Suppose the hypothetical were reversed: blacks may be served by pilots without commercial licenses; whites cannot.

That fact that our answer reverses at that point shows that we understand this analogy only by our understanding of the races, not by our understanding of flight safety.

Alex writes:

"Right now only the rich regularly risk their life in a small airplane."

The reason why that is depends which rich we're talking about and what kind of risk is involved. In the case of CEOs of large companies, many are required by their boards to fly on private aircraft for security reasons, which lowers the risks to their firms (and costs too - in many cases, this kind of policy is driven by their cost of insuring the CEO and the often highly sensitive business information they carry).

More generally, flying on smaller private planes provides greater efficiency - no TSA security checks, able to fly into smaller airports closer to where they really need to be, on demand, with no risk of lost baggage or missed flight connections. But these are also the reasons why regular people would benefit from flight sharing services

I can see the efficiency argument here, but are the corporate jets really safer?

Seems unlikely.

Surely the risk of the CEO getting killed due to more dangerous private flights is higher than the risk of the CEO getting attacked and killed on a private airplane?

Most likely the CEO wants the private jet perk, the board wants to give it to him, and both want a convenient explanation to justify the cost.

Seems unlikely to me as well. But if an insurance company is writing a policy that way in an arm's length transaction I'd be convinced. If it is just a board vote I wouldn't be.

The price of the insurance policy may be arms' length, but its terms can be whatever the customer is willing to pay for.

What I was saying is that if someone can find D&O price list and it shows "rider for allowing the CEO to fly commercial" that would cause me to update in the direction of it being a worse risk than private planes.

From a regulatory viewpoint, "Uber of the Air" is a very different proposition from a corporate jet as those who pilot corporate jets must have commercial pilot's licenses, whereas the objection to "Uber of the Air" is that many of the pilots would have only private pilot's licences.

The requirements for a private pilot's license are far lower than those for a commercial pilot's license; thus, the time and expense for a private pilot to obtain a commercial license is large enough that few would be likely to do so unless the rewards were large enough to justify the time and expense.

And, yes, FAA is risk-averse (as are most regulators). Accident rates per mile flown are much, much higher for private pilots than for commercial pilots, partly because the aircraft they fly lack the safety features of larger aircraft but mostly because they fly infrequently and (as compared with commerical pilots) have minimal qualifications and training.

In a libertarian world passengers would be responsible for assessing their tolerance for risk but in regulatory world many passengers just want assurance that air travel is "safe." Which it surely is: considering that it consists of traveling at high speeds miles above the ground, it is astonishingly safe.

Passengers are ALWAYS responsible for assessing their tolerance for risk, independent of whatever regulatory or licensing structure is in place. The argument is not whether licensing should exist, but WHO is qualified to do the licensing and are they taking all relevant for factors - including economic ones - into account? The argument is that centralized state managed licensing does not, and is inferior to market based licensing and testing.

This is silly. We delegate the decision on risk-tolerance to agencies precisely because we lack the knowledge to assess the risk ourselves.

General aviation in commercially built aircraft on established flight paths is at least as safe as aviation on scheduled air carriers, and more than six times safer than driving. You are more likely to be killed going to and from the terminal than dying in flight.

How do private planes skip TSA? Is it an entirely separate system that never touches the general aviation airports?

"from what I understand, it is still completely legal to find people to share flights (and their costs) by using old-fashioned tools such as bulletin boards or telephone calls."

It's probably a crystal clear comparison to the FAA since they're most likely using a BBS and dial up modems. Facebook and "The Internet" are different creature altogether.

This has been a staple of "see how much our government sucks" griping for years. But given how many high-profile security breaches there have been in the past few years, I can't hate on any government agency that uses old technology and that other people have to entrust with their lives if the existing technology has a demonstrated track record of safety and security.

I think government is extremely wasteful, inept, and inefficient. But I agree that old technology is not proof of this. Replacing old technology may or may not pass a cost-benefit test. Often the rule "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies.

Are you suggesting the government is capable of conducting a rational cost-benefit analysis?

They absolutely can, but their costs and benefits
aren't rational.

@cowboydroid, no but the cost-benefit analysis can be conducted ex post facto to discover that the government inadvertently chose the best option.

Ok, just joking. I'm not quite that cynical.

Outside of the easy joke, I agree with you too. There's a lot to be said for "order enough parts to last a hundred years, and keep the reliable equipment". That's how nuclear power does it for example.

Somewhere some bureaucrat determined that someone wasn't getting their privates adequately explored.

I just had this conversation with my woman yesterday.

As someone with a modicum of wealth, most of my earthly desires are being met. If I could have ONE thing more, which would please me greatly, is to be able to fly more spontaneously, at more reasonable prices than charter type services.

I would travel more, if flying commercial didn't suck so damn bad...

Humans have been flying in airplanes for some time now. Where is that free market I have heard so much about?

For every few you there is a guy who wants to fly to the Whitehouse, one way.

Maybe self-flying planes will eliminate that and similar risks. Should a self-flying plane attempt to land on the semi-crowded freeway? Or should it just auger in as the moral choice?

"...there is a guy who wants to fly to the Whitehouse, one way. "'

Let him.

It follows then that all citizens must sacrifice their freedom because someone somewhere may do something bad.

When do they come for my steak knives?

Chuck, Lurker, why are you here? Is it because you want a private conversation with like minded people? If so, have at it, and I'll try to stay out of the way.

On the other hand, if you realistically expect to engage with the politics and policy of the United States, you'll have to think about how the bulk of the population view things. They are overly concerned with long tail risks. We can work to correct that, but a "let's play" politics that ignores it is a non-starter.

After reading Alex's post I was thinking about FAA overreaction. Then I went to Flytenow blog and after reading "innovation" multiple times I'm less worried the FAA shut them down.

The missing context.

There are companies that offer the same service trough an "innovative app": JetSmarter, Victor, UbAir, JetSuite, BlackJet.......the difference is in the pilot. The FAA has no problem with ATP pilots.

We aren't talking about NetJets here, with commercial grade pilots and commercial grade aircraft, but "doctor killers" (as some small aircraft are called) with a pilot who has only a private pilot license and likely without an IFR rating. I suppose Tabarrok's response would be that if some fool is willing to fly with snoopy in the cockpit of a 30 year old Cessna 150, let the fool have his freedom.

It remains legal to do this, as long as you connect with the pilot through any means the FAA hasn't thought to ban yet.

The issue is, where do you draw the line? What coherent standard allows the FAA to ban this app that facilitates otherwise legal activity?

I think the biggest story here is the excessive discretion the FAA wields in regulating this area.

Legal to do what, exactly? When even the sympathetic writer refers to them as "Uber for planes" over their own self-characterization (due to the ruinous regulatory implications of that analogy), is it not entirely transparent what's actually going on?

So you're really left to argue that, since the FAA doesn't combat the facilitation of this in other media (where it would be almost impossible to do so), it's somehow incoherent to do so here (where it is trivial to do). Which is, well, not a great argument.

Calling them "Uber for planes" does not make it so. They were not selling flights, nor were they a platform for others to sell flights. They simply facilitated pilots and passengers to connect for activity that was previously allowed under FAA regulations.

Maybe some pilots would then illegally charge a passenger more than what is allowed as "expense sharing" but that wasn't intrinsic to the service.

In general, supposing to respond to your own point is rather poor form.

Is there some kind of evidence that small planes are more dangerous than cars for example?

General Aviation is somewhat more dangerous than cars. It's in the range of motorcycles and bicycles.

There are many cites, but this one is fun: http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/safety

My understanding is that in the US, private planes have equal priority with commercial airliners with 100+ people on board.

If that's the case, "Uber of the sky" seems like a horrible idea. Making it more convenient to fly in a small plane means that more people would do so, jamming up all the runways.

I'm surprised no one mentioned that potentially enormous issue.

Do those planes predominantly use the same airports though? Plus, if demand increase, small airports will be built (or at least not get destroyed like meigs field was in chicago...)

Yes, your statement is partially true. Public airports (as most large airports are) are required to serve everyone, but that doesn't mean 747s are waiting on Cessnas. Airports can charge landing fees that often makes it prohibitive to land at a big one.

The number of runways is fixed?

How do you plan to compensate property owners for their loss of the quiet enjoyment of their homestead from additional small aircraft traffic?

Alternatively, what if they don't want to be compensated, but want to maintain their status quo level of air traffic?

Plus you're stuck cleaning the pieces of the damn thing out of your yard. Waste a whole Saturday.

And if we're extending this to commoners, you wouldn't even be able to compensate yourself for the efforts when you find a wallet. May need to regulate a minimum cash-on-hand for passengers.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Paul Heyne (in 1993):

"Airline travel could always be made safer if we required planes to taxi from one city to another. But travel would become less safe because people would drive their cars, which is far more risky. The US Federal Aviation Administration is thinking about requiring that all children under two years old have their own seats so that they can be strapped in. That might save one life every ten years, but we might kill about ten babies every year as mummy and daddy drive to see grandma instead of taking the plane."

http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2228#Heyne_1472_98

Relatedly, I wonder if a similar argument to "unsafe cars > motorcycles" in India could be made for uberizing air travel in the US.

Fascinating comment. It'd be like sticking a syringe in every millionth big mac. Sure a couple of people will get pricked, but think of the healthcare savings!

Hmm, that's interesting but I don't really see how that fits.

Maybe you can correct me, but your example is about a deterrent due to safety, whereas Heynes' is about a cost increase that unintentionally favors the unsafe. The "motorcycles vs. unsafe cars in India" example is related to the comment in the post that "there is certainly some level of safety where we would want more passenger-carrying small-aircraft" and the fact that air travel is generally safer than car travel. So worries over the relative safety of cheaper but less safe, small Uber planes might unintentionally lead to more people choosing a comparatively less safe mode of transportation: cars.

Plus, I strongly suspect the result of your example would not be healthier people but an increase in Whopper sales. That, or no result, as I wouldn't be surprised if the chance of dying from eating a Big Mac might be somewhere around 1/1,000,000 already anyway.

For someone so much in favor of the precautionary principle, also known as 'regulation whenever, wherever' and 'if it just saves one life, it's worth it', an argument in favor of more deaths seems very strange. Is the precautionary principle just a farce used to force upon the rest of us, an aesthetic preference for top-down control?

This isn't the first time. AirPooler is a similar and competing service and was also shot down by regulatory issues. See article here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-08-15/flight-share-deemed-illegal-by-faa-in-blow-to-airpooler

Of course, this isn't so much about the freedom to fly in a "doctor killer" with snoopy at the helm but another of Tabarrok's distractions to avoid efficient public transit. I'm reminded of that parable of the rising waters and Christian who rejected his neighbor's offer to transport him by car out of harm's way because he had faith in God to protect him, who rejected the offer of the rescue squad to transport him by boat out of harm's way because he had faith in God to protect him, who rejected the offer of the Coast Guard to transport him by helicopter out of harm's way because he had faith in God to protect him, only to find himself at the Pearly Gates and complaining to St. Peter that he faith in God to protect him and God didn't. Incredulous, St. Peter responded: "God sent your neighbor to save you and you rejected His help, God sent the rescue squad to save you and you rejected His help, and God sent the Coast Guard to save you and you rejected His help. That you are ignorant of the obvious isn't God's fault".

I think this is kind of a boring issue, except in one regard. What is it about Libertarians that makes them concentrate on things that DO have negative externalities? Or that DO have negative potential for the median market participant?

You'd think they would look for win-win in cutting regulation, as the low hanging fruit. As an example, apparently our major chemical safety overhaul is a win-win.

But perhaps it isn't about changing policy, just banging your head against that stone. Maybe the overhaul is bad, because it acknowledges a government role.

Kind of fair criticism, at least here. I somewhat suspect that Alex would expect to be able to better avoid the negative externalities than others, while being more likely to enjoy the benefits of additional air travel options.

Much of the additional air traffic will flow over trailer parks and housing projects, not suburban homes of university professors.

Cars have negative externalities too. So does walking.

Which one is without regulation? Oh wait, neither.

Regulation is not concerned with internalizing external costs. Regulation creates external costs. The only means of internalizing external costs is by a strict delineation of property rights.

False dichotomy, try again. (If you don't get it, flight will still be regulated in a world where private Pilots are allowed to carry passengers.)

And, arguably, the private benefits there are largely absorbed by those with relatively more political power, while the negative externalities are largely borne by those with little such power. Why just extend that to a new realm because we are already doing it elsewhere?

Even if there were no imbalance to begin with, it could arise spontaneously. If in a democracy of equals, 51% can tyrannize the other 49%, can't 90% of politically-equal residents decide to impose the negative externalities of a local airport and air travel on 10% of their fellow residents, while they all benefit equally from the increased ability to travel by air? From what I recall of my takings law, there would be no taking here, and no (federal) constitutional requirement of compensation.

The politically powerful and wealthy already have access alternate flight options including private jets, friends with jets, and first class options. Ubering flight will expand private flight access to the middle classes.

"Do we want more people to have access?"

Who is "we", and why are "we" deciding how much risk passengers should take on or how much access to small-aircraft they should have?

We could take the view that safety is extreme, even to the point of safety theater, around flying because people demand it. A plane crash is scarier than a car crash, and so planes "must" be much safer.

I would probably listen to some numbers based argument that flying is "too safe" relative to other forms of transportation, but taking that argument directly to the public ... ain't going to fly.

If the response of safety originated in the market, I might be inclined to agree that market demand created the extreme response.

Market demand does not produce a government response. Government responds to special interest demand, which is not market demand.

The justification for regulation is that the public is too ignorant to understand the risks that they are taking. What kind of argument is it, in favor of regulation, that the public is too concerned with minimizing risk? Literally destroying the foundation of your worldview to prove one minor point.

Interesting - there are always people ready to defend any regulation, however stupid. A meta question - why is this? Do they have an image of themselves as somehow a societal leader, so they see this as an attack on their status? I remember when I was at school, there were always a few pupils that, no matter have facetiously bad the rules were in favor of the teachers and against the pupils, managed to defend the rules. I always wondered about what is was with these kids, usually not the brightest, who felt it necessary to side with authority in such a way.

Really? You don't think regulators are just looking past the first injury? At which point the public would turn on them because it is air travel, and the government is supposed to keep them safe?

If you want to fault anyone, fault a population that demands an FAA answer and correction for every single accident.

But does the population really demand that? Have there ever been any studies demonstrating people are less likely to fly because of perceived weak FAA regulation?

It seems to me less-developed nations would be a good test case. Is a person of means in Egypt (or Russia for that matter) less likely to choose air travel than if he lived in the US?

The population would demand it after the same people making this argument at the New York Times told them to demand it, over and over, until they did. The desire to side with authority, just like the desire to side with the serious people, is nothing more than people who aren't very bright and aren't very creative wanting to capture some respect for themselves." Well, the establishment says... and I agree" implies the speaker is part of the establishment, has some status.

Thomas - you have the same idea as myself.

The incentives are simple for the FAA, one accident that "could be prevented" and they are heavily criticized. But if they make it a little harder to fly by introducing some unnecessary restriction, maybe there might be some grumbling by the industry but no real opposition. So they lean towards increasing regulation for their own good reasons, there is no puzzle in why they do what they do for me.

But I am talking not about the FAA, but people whose first response is to leap to their defense as a reflex. I was wondering about the psychology of these types of people. My speculation is that these folks see themselves as somehow authority types by proxy, they would like to establish rules for other people, but lacking any real power they sublimate this onto other authority figures, like the FAA.

Unless you mean to say that there is some set of people who are willing to defend any regulation presented to them (as opposed to a set of defenders for any regulation) your observation is wholly unremarkable. In order for a rule to pass, it must have some plausible rationale for its existence to persuade a few people to vote for it (whether they be voters, legislators, or unelected bureaucrats). So why would it be surprising that in a given sample of people you would find some group of people to defend something that, by virtue of its existence, we can reasonably assume has at least a plausible rationale?

Obviously I meant the first. Sorry for the lack of clarity.

I fear that I am going to start a chain reaction and ruin the phenomenon that I am observing, but I feel that Alex's blog posts are lately provoking more thoughtful comments than Tyler's blog posts, a sharp reversal of previous trends! And this is despite my reading that the general consensus of the comments is that Alex is going a little too far in pushing for deregulation here (externalities exist, requiring a commercial license vs private license might actually be a good idea given these externalities, other Ubers of sky like NetJets do exist within current regulatory framework).

To me, Alex's case for deregulation would be stronger if he could at least show me that commercial pilot licensing is mainly a rationing tool or protectionist vehicle for pilots. It is not enough to simply claim that commercial pilot licensing is equivalent to taxi medallions or as unimportant as hair dresser licensing. I'm also fairly convinced that deregulating this would force us to implement a whole host counter-regulations to prevent screwing up air traffic and airport runways.

It seems the logical position here is not to try and create an artificial barrier between bulletin boards and an internet application. Instead, if the underlying concern is that private pilots will be acting as commercial pilots, then instead restrict reimbursement to 50% of the marginal flight costs. That seems to follow the spirit of the original regulation much better than the aforementioned rule.

The mechanisms needed to enforce that sounds considerably more invasive than simply cutting off mediums for circumventing the existing regulations.

Yeah, this seems like a pretty easily enforceable means of significantly cutting the number of private pilots acting as commercial pilots.

In a world of costless and omnipresent enforcement, perhaps the FAA would prohibit the bulletin board method as well. But rather than prohibiting something that it can't realistically enforce (and correspondingly reducing respect for the rule of law and increasing the room for arbitrary enforcement), it prohibits something that is easily monitored and enforced. It may not 100% eliminate the perceived problem, but if it eliminates 80% at comparatively minimal enforcement cost, that's pretty good.

Since the bulletin board method doesn't scale, it's not even clear that the FAA would prohibit that were it even possible to do so.

I'm not sure enforcement is an issue. Wouldn't it be trivial to make it a requirement that all on-line flight sharing include the costs in the posts and have a prominent disclaimer that they can't be more than half the marginal costs.

Include a phone number to contact the FAA for suspected infractions. Let the crowd enforce the system.

Concern: Pilots and passengers will collaborate to violate safety regulations.

Solution: Rely on passengers to report suspected violations of safety regulations.

Gee, what could go wrong (before we even consider the volume of crank calls the FAA may well receive from dissatisfied custo. . . er, "passengers")?

"Solution: Rely on passengers to report suspected violations of safety regulations."

Sure why not.

As far as I know, there hasn't been any rash of small air plane crashes due to the web app. So there's no apparent harm.

We already know how to move people efficiently from place to place: it's called public transit. What Tabarrok prefers is the Pony Express. Flying cars, spaceships to Mars, what nonsense, nonsense promoted by people whose idea of the Enlightenment is the light bulb. Of course, they are all moving to Singapore, the beneficiary of the vast wealth created in China, where they have bullet trains to everywhere and nowhere.

I would be a lot more sympathetic to this comment if it were not for the fact that most public transport ends up horridly politicized and seems to undergo regular periods of crisis.

For instance, the DC Metro has basically a captive population - there are nowhere near enough parking spaces in DC for all the government employees, contractors, and other staff who have to be in DC to actually drive to work. There are also woefully insufficient roads to move this many people and a river with limited crossing bifurcating the region. And yet somehow maintenance was deferred until the system has to be shut down piecemeal. This brilliant idea of indefinitely deferring maintenance seems to become all too common.

Chicago just burnt through $5,000,000,000 and needs to spend more than 250% of that again to deal with the accumulated problems with public transit. Deferred maintenance is also cropping up in Boston, San Francisco, Philly, and even New York.

Shockingly, public transportation looks an awful lot like a captured public good. Where it works well (e.g. Manhattan, inner London, Tokyo), sees an immediate bump in price when it comes effectively online which is effectively a giant rent for current property owners (who may or may not be politically connected developers). This results in one of two follow on options:
a. Densities rise so the less wealthy can buy their way onto the land (e.g. Tokyo), but of course this means a large portion of your economic efficiency from commuting is now going to line the pockets of developers and land owners (and also typically means the workers trade transportation efficiency for smaller living space than status quo ante which offsets some of the gains).
b. Prices jump and the masses are bid out of the public transportation (e.g. the NOVA Metro burbs).

In either case you end up with rentiers who have a huge incentive for capturing the funds for public transportation (spend money on my portion of the system, not over there) and a huge incentive for fighting new levies to fund the system (as any remotely fair system would ding them for the massive jump in the property values).

The real question is not is air travel as efficient or not as public transportation, but would Flytenow result in harm reduction or not? After all there are a lot of places, even in China, where no passenger rail service exists nor will it ever be economical. Is it better to have the planes sit idle or fly with fewer passengers and have people use alternatives (like driving, telecommuting, 737s, or taking a staycation) or to let them go on the planes?

I mean I do have to wonder, are you against contraception because we know how to efficiently stop the spread of STIs and unwanted pregnancy through something we call abstinence? Flytenow seems like it might be a bit like condoms, perhaps less "efficient" than trains, but a better option people would actually use rather than the current choices.

But DC Metro efficiently hires exclusively African-Americans, and so efficiently provides votes for dollars for the Democrat Party. It's all very efficient. If you weren't fortunate enough to be born one of Hillary Clinton's favored races or genders, you could always serve your country and become disabled, the combination of the two making you just as desirable to hire from the government's perspective as any person born with lots of melanin or a vagina.

From 50 or 60 year old liberals perspective, the type of person who never had to compete against women or minorities. The type of person who could get a big law position without attending a top 10 law school - no 3.8 gpa and 170 lsat. To that person, the fact that government employment, here DC Metro, is biased toward minorities and women is a plus - rayward actually benefited from a racist and sexist system and already has his, supporting a reverse racist system costs him nothing and signals virtue.

Libertarianism is not especially popular for a number of reasons. One of them is most people want their government to tell them what is safe and stop them from making certain dangerous choices they don't want to understand. The average citizen does not want to do a research project to figure out whether the cheapest or most convenient airline is safe. They want to just know it is safe because unsafe options are banned. Doesn't the wishes of this majority matter?

Before someone asks 'what abou skydiving', I think many if not most want to be able to choose recreational activities that they know are dangerous, even if they want to be protected from a dangerous air taxi service.

"Doesn’t the wishes of this majority matter?"

The Supreme Court routinely shoots down the wishes of the majority to protect the rights of the minority.

Argument Ad Populum - coming from the 'science! (Experts consensus > any majority) crew', about another science (The Myth of the Rational Voter - economic illiteracy is rampant), without any evidence of majority opinion. A true gem.

Because governments are capable of "banning" risk.... as though some wave of the bureaucrat's hand simply dismisses reality.

That's the kind of absurdity we're up against. It's a tall hill to climb.

This is why we have government? Really? If I want to hire a guy to fly me somewhere in his unltralight what the heck is it the business of my neighbor? Or if someone wants to rent a motor cross bike should I stand in the way because it's dangerous?

Dear politician, bureaucrat, neighbor mind your own dang business.

If you look at the Uber model, things usually work pretty well, but then someone gets robbed or raped or injured. My automobile insurance policy, which is pretty standard, covers me and non-commercial passengers. If I am driving people around or "lending" people my car to make money, then I am not covered. My home insurance policy is similar. It covers me, my family and my guests. It doesn't cover my tenants. If I want them covered, I need to get a landlord's policy.

Uber, Lyft and others have been dealing with the insurance problem by providing their own policies for their drivers. They've also increased their scrutiny of drivers, doing credit and background checks, verifying identities and so on. Nothing says this model can't work for general aviation, but Flytenow was not providing insurance, nor was it screening pilots.

Maybe these planes can be listed as tiny, mobile apartments at AirB&B.

See you're not paying to be flown anywhere, you're paying to stay in this little room that just happens to go from place to place via flight. And if it happens to be going where you want to go well, that's just a nice coincidence!

Comments for this post are closed