Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Boston flight-sharing company Flytenow to shut down

The Beginning of the End: 

United States Court of Appeals:

Flytenow CEO Matt Voska, right, flew customers to Martha's Vineyard from Bedford, Mass., last April.

A startup that was aiming to be the Uber of the skies instead will remain grounded after an appeals court agreed with the Federal Aviation Administration that anyone who carries passengers for it must have a commercial pilot’s license.

“It’s been a rough weekend,” Matt Voska, co-founder and chief executive of Flytenow, told the Herald yesterday. “It’s the end of the road for us as a business, trying to make ride-sharing for planes a reality.”

Earlier this year, the FAA ruled the startup was a “common carrier.” That meant its pilots were required to have commercial licenses and other safety measures in place.

That decision was upheld by a District of Columbia Appeals Court in a decision released Friday.

Flytenow had argued its service was no different from private pilots splitting expenses with passengers, a practice the FAA has OK’d.

But the FAA and the appeals panel said Flytenow membership was open to the public, which made it more akin to a commercial airline.

“Unfortunately the FAA has chosen to overregulate and stop it in its tracks, even though this is something pilots have done for decades,” Voska said.

The company said it would shut down in a post on its website yesterday, but said it is exploring its options for appeal.

Flytenow, founded in Boston, was a website where pilots of private planes making quick flights could connect with passengers who needed to get somewhere.

A pilot planning to make a flight for fun would post where and when they would be going, and passengers would book a ride, pitching in for the cost of fuel and other expenses.

“It turns out that flying is a great way to get to mid-range travel distances that are not hubs,” Voska said.

“For example, Boston to Martha’s Vineyard. Horrible to drive to, it’s going to be really expensive taking the ferry over, but it’s just a short half-hour flight.”

The company’s goal closely mirrored ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, which often talk about filling seats in otherwise empty vehicles.

But unlike those billion-dollar companies, which have been able to convince potential regulators they’re an integral part of transportation, Flytenow never had a chance to get off the ground.

Voska said there were only a few dozen flights through the Flytenow platform.

Also, unlike Uber and Lyft, Flytenow proactively reached out to the FAA for legal clarity shortly after it launched.

The FAA did not respond to a request for comment.


File photo:  Flytenow co-founder Matt Voska, third from left, and passengers Steve McHugh, left, Zac Campbell and Greg Skloot prepare to depart from Palo Alto Airport on a trip to Monterey.

1 comment:

  1. As a private pilot I am very reluctant to fly anyone who isn't FAMILY; I've only done it if the person is an adult and single or is also a pilot.* It is unfortunate because flying is a great way to get kids excited about aviation, but I don't need to kill someone's kid/spouse and then have my widow and child be bankrupted by the tort bar. Any private pilot who would use this service to defray their cost of flying is putting their entire estate at RISK.

    Quite frankly, if a person operating a light GA aircraft needs this service to offset their costs, they really can't afford the hobby in the first place.

    *Note to FAA if reading this: at no expense to my passengers.