U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.  (Photo: Mike Scarcella/ALM) U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mike Scarcella/ALM)

 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a pioneering flight-sharing startup’s dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The justices, without comment, turned away Flytenow Inc.’s petition, which argued that pilots using Flytenow’s online platform to solicit passengers are not “common carriers” who must satisfy more stringent aviation rules.

Flytenow is a web-based service in which private pilots fill seats among passengers who want to share the expenses of transportation on pre-planned flights. The company’s high court petition drew support from pro-business groups that viewed the service as another step in the sharing economy.

Before Flytenow’s service was available, private pilots generally posted requests for shared expenses on bulletin boards, in airports, that did not violate FAA regulations. In early 2014, Flytenow sought an interpretation from the FAA about its business plan’s compliance with the 1958 Federal Aviation Act and agency regulations.

“Like the ridesharing company, Uber, Flytenow is in the business of communicating—although unlike Uber, the pilots do not, indeed cannot, profit—they only share the costs of a flight with passengers,” the company’s lawyers wrote in their high-court petition.

The FAA in response said pilots offering flight-sharing services on the company’s website would be operating as “common carriers,” requiring them to have commercial pilot licenses. Pilots with only private licenses would violate FAA regulations if they offered their services on Flytenow, according to the agency’s letter.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in December 2015 unanimously agreed with the FAA, holding that the flight-sharing services offered on the website met the definition of “common carrier.”

After the ruling, Flytenow said it was left with no choice but to shut down.

Private pilots who want to share space on planes “will be forced to either stick with the old bulletin board or migrate to other Internet platforms worse-suited to the service, like Facebook, reddit, or craigslist,” an amicus brief backing Flytenow said.

 

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