When can a pilot share expenses with a passenger?

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Every Private pilot checkride includes a discussion with the examiner on the privileges and limitations of the pilot certificate. It is generally well understood that Private pilots cannot be paid for their pilot services which would require at least a Commercial pilot certificate, but there are several exceptions outlined in § 61.113. The exceptions include a Private pilot flying in connection with business or employment as long as the flight is incidental to that business activity. Additional exceptions include flying for certain charitable events or even search and rescue operations.

And it is also commonly understood that Private pilots (or any pilot) is permitted to share in the expenses of a flight with passengers. The types of expenses that can be shared are expressly stated in § 61.113(c) which are “fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.” If you are to share in these expenses with other passengers, it’s also a requirement that the pilot not “pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses.” This indicates that the expenses must be shared proportionally or evenly. In other words, the pilot cannot pass along 90% of the expenses of a flight to his passengers. In the case of three aboard the aircraft including the pilot, those expenses would have to be split into thirds.


If you are to share expenses with other passengers, the expenses must be shared equally.

An element of sharing expenses with passengers that is less understood is the FAA’s consistent legal interpretation that the pilot must have a common purpose with his passengers for traveling to the destination. In other words, the pilot’s motivation cannot simply be flying as a favor or for the purpose of building flight time. This type of activity falls into the category of common carriage or “holding out” to the public which is considered a charter operation which is reserved for certified air carriers.

“Holding out” to the public or common carriage generally consists of four elements:

1) a holding out of willingness to

2) transport persons or property

3) from place to place

4) for compensation.

While advertising (digital, print, social) is the most obvious indication of expressing a willingness to transport people or property for compensation, using other people to help spread the message, or simply establishing a reputation as one who provides air travel can be considered “holding out.” And the FAA has established a broad interpretation of compensation that extends well beyond the exchange of money. Compensation can be considered the exchange of other goods, goodwill, or, as mentioned previously, even building flight time.


multiengine airplane

Enforcement of illegal charter activity is an emphasis area of the FAA.

Enforcement of illegal charter activity is an emphasis area of the FAA. It poses a risk to the general public and puts those organizations who are certified air carriers at a distinct disadvantage. Penalties for illegal charter can include significant fines as well as certificate suspension or revocation. Remember, in general, Private pilots cannot act as PIC for compensation or hire or act as PIC of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire. And no pilot can participate in common carriage unless certified as an air carrier.

For additional information, visit Safe Air Charter Operations | Federal Aviation Administration (faa.gov)

Eric Radtke