It’s time to open up air travel

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Last week, Jordan wrote about the Airline Oligopoly and its chilling effect on our right to travel, which is guaranteed by the Privileges and Immunities clause in Article IV of the Constitution. This winter of our discontent with all the headaches of common carriers is but another chapter in a long saga of problems created by government ineptitude.

Let’s say you have a meeting in Tallahassee, FL, which is a 6 hour drive from Greenville, SC. Airline tickets are $400, but it costs you 6 hours in travel time between connections, security delays, and general airport hassle. Why fly?

The big problem here is the government’s restrictions on General Aviation (“GA”) Aircraft, specifically that the FAA won’t let you pay for a seat on a plane not licensed under FAR rules in Part 135 of the Code of Federal Regulations applying to air charters. (Dare you to read that for fun.)  The Cato institute wrote a great amicus brief on why the FAA logic is ridiculous, but current law only allows you to split gas with a pilot who already happens to be traveling to your destination. Yet every day thousands of private planes are flying around with empty seats–sometimes completely empty except for the pilots.

What if you could open an app on your phone, search for a destination, and see a schedule of aircraft traveling to that destination. You pick an aircraft, pay for your seat, skip the security line and arrive in style. In our hypothetical trip from GSP to TLH, this would get you door to door in 2 hours or less.

Several startup companies have tried to challenge the FAA’s ban on selling excess capacity on GA flights. JetSmarter is tackling the high-net-worth crowd, but you need $15k just to get a membership. In Europe, Skyüber is working on a ride-sharing model. The problem here is that we really just need something like Ridepost for air travel. The government defends its regulations on safety grounds, but if United’s mob squad is on patrol, I’ll take my chances elsewhere.

In the meantime, if you’re a business team looking to visit multiple stops in one day, small private planes are a no brainer. A single-engine Cessna or Piper only costs a few hundred dollars per hour, while the boost in your productivity is crazy compared to driving. More importantly, the skies are still way safer than the interstate.

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