Flytenow grounded: FAA shuts down ride-sharing for air travelers

The federal government has blocked efforts to expand the "ride-sharing" models pioneered by Uber and Lyft to the flying public.

The Federal Aviation Administration says "flight-sharing" -- when online services connect private pilots with passengers willing to split the cost -- is against the law. But one startup is fighting back, CBS News' Don Dahler reports.

Pilot Matt Voska said he helped launch Flytenow to make flying more affordable.

The concept is simple. Pilots post flight plans to the website, and passengers offer to pay some of the fuel and other costs - something allowed long before the Internet came along.

"It's typically done on bulletin boards, like at the airport, so a pilot will say, 'Hey, I'm flying to Martha's Vineyard next week, anyone wants to come with, here's my number,'" Voska said. "So we said OK, let's just take that same concept and we'll put it online."

But the FAA said not so fast. By accepting paying passengers through websites like Flytenow, the agency believed the small planes were essentially operating as commercial airliners but without the scrutiny and oversight commercial airlines receive.

In August, an FAA lawyer wrote, "The website is designed to attract a broad segment of the public interested in transportation by air."

Tal Reichert, a pilot for almost 11 years, signed up with Flytenow in March.

"This is just people sharing their hobby and their passions," Reichert said. "This is not commercial aviation. It is impossible for a pilot to make a living flying through Flytenow. Every time a pilot flies for Flytenow, the pilot must pay at least their own share of the expenses."

The decision stalled Flytenow's business as well as other flight-sharing services like AirPooler and PilotShareTheRide.com, which had been cleared by a different FAA official in 2005.

While pilots can still share costs, a problem now arises if they use the Internet to find passengers, said Flytenow's attorney, Jon Riches. He sued the FAA earlier this month.

"The FAA has been very vague in this case and put private pilots in a very difficult position in not knowing which of their communications are lawful and which aren't," Riches said.

Reichert hopes the federal lawsuit will prompt the FAA to reverse course.

"I love flying," he said. "I much more enjoy it when I can share it with someone else. The world looks completely different from above, and this is amazing."