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Private pilot give flight tours, while sharing expenses, to build hours?

Asked by: 2616 views FAA Regulations, Private Pilot

May a private pilot give flight tours to help build flight time at a reduced cost (assuming the pilot pays no less than the pro rate share of the operating expenses)? Is flight time considered compensation by 14 CFR §61.113(a)?

If so, how does a private pilot share expenses with PAX without violating this reg? Where's the fine line?

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4 Answers



  1. Tom on Jul 11, 2014

    The bigger questions are who are the passengers? How did you find these passengers?

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  2. Best Answer


    Mark Kolber on Jul 12, 2014

    The answer to the question as stated is “No.”

    Unfortunately, there is no “fine line” between permitted and non-permitted conduct, just a fuzzy grey one. But there are a few principles that can be followed by those who want to stay on the permitted side of the line without trying to find a way to edge closer to being considered a commercial operation (people trying to edge closer is the whole reason why it’s grey to begin with):

    1. Sharing expenses under 61.113 also requires there be a shared purpose for a trip; that the pilot has a reason for going other than for the purpose of transporting someone else. This is one that the FAA has in the bast few years actually liberalized (See the 2011 Haberkorn interpretation), saying that at least the destination needs to be shared. But wither way, the pilot needs an independent reason for going. The classic example is, you and your friends decide to go to the Super Bowl this year and decide to share the costs of the trip – tickets, meals, hotels.

    In your example, you customers want sightseeing trips. You want to make money. You don’t care where they want to go and any personal enjoyment of sightseeing is secondary to building hours and defraying their costs – you said so.

    2. Don’t look like a commercial operation. With the fuzzy line between go and no-go, the reported enforcement cases can probably be best summed up with, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” If you are doing what the commercial air tour folks are doing, chances are you are one – even if you don’t intend to make a profit. Remember that part of the goal of these rules is to protect the investment of the operators who have taken much greater financial risks than you to comply with a heavier regulatory burden.

    3. Watch out for advertising. “Holding out” your availability gets much more play than it should but it’s definitely a consideration. Read the Facebook portion of the Haberkorn letter and you’ll get an idea of how the FAA is struggling with the issue – how much leeway to give in light of the reality of how people, even close friends and family members, communicate with each other. There’s more to come on that score. A company trying to put together a ride board (in what seems to me to be an obvious attempt to test the limits of Haberkorn) has recently asked the FAA Chief Counsel about its business plan.

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  3. Mark Kolber on Jul 12, 2014

    BTW, yes. The FAA is on record that “flight time” can be considered compensation.

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  4. Samuel P Warner on Jul 14, 2014

    Mr. Kolber, thank you for answering my questions so quickly.

    The 2011 Haberkorn Interpretation letter you referenced, and the 2010 Sept/Oct FAA Safety Briefing (mentioned in the interpretation letter) was very helpful.

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