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BlackBird Planes and the Uber-for-Flight Model – What Could Go Wrong?

BlackBird Planes, side view of a blackbird plane

The success of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft is the stuff of entrepreneurial fairytales. In roughly a decade, these companies have revolutionized consumer transportation, and made countless rides home from the grocery store or bar possible for millions. So it should come as little surprise that other businesses are looking to do the same in other transportation sectors. Specifically, some companies are exploring the use of ride-sharing apps to connect passengers with charter flights. And one of these companies that may succeed in their effort is BlackBird. But the sweet taste of success is far from reality just yet, as the company faces one of its toughest challenges to date.

In recent communications from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), BlackBird planes received instructions to cease its operations. The FAA has taken issue with the model through which consumers connect with BlackBird planes and pilots. Because commercial flights require greater regulatory oversight, the FAA claims that BlackBird planes and pilots are deficient in this regard. But BlackBird disagrees. In fact, it states its ride-sharing apps simply raise awareness of the BlackBird planes and pilots available to consumers. How all of this plays out will have major repercussions for the flight industry.

BlackBird Planes, FAA communication to BlackBird
The FAA and BlackBird aren’t even close to being on the same page – yet.

A Little History of Ride-Sharing Apps and Charter Flights

Interestingly enough, BlackBird is not the first company to pursue ride-sharing apps for charter flights. FlyteNow is another company that attempted to pursue a similar model a few years back. However, the FAA also fought FlyteNow all the way to the Supreme Court. In its filing ruling, the Supreme Court supported the FAA’s arguments regarding commercial flights. In essence, the FAA states that common flight carriers who receive compensation for services must have specific certifications. Pilots themselves must have them or be employed by a company that holds one of these certificates. These are the same claims against BlackBird planes and pilots now.

BlackBird’s ride-sharing apps are more recent. CEO Rudd Davis founded the company in 2016 after taking a charter flight to Lake Tahoe. The trip was a result of his son’s profound car sickness. But after realizing the charter’s affordability and convenience, he decided to launch the company. Since that time, BlackBird has raised over $10 million in Series A funding. Likewise, there are now over 700 pilots on BlackBird’s ride-sharing apps who travel between 50 and 500-mile charter flights. Based on its rapid success, BlackBird is now looking to scale its ride-sharing services for charter flights geographically.

Are BlackBird Planes and Pilots Legit?

According to the FAA, BlackBird planes and pilots do not meet certification requirements. However, BlackBird CEO Rudd Davis disagrees. Like Uber and Lyft’s ride-sharing apps, Davis suggests BlackBird simply offers a platform where customers, planes, and pilots can connect. In fact, as per this recent Bold story, Uber now offers helicopter flights as part of its services, with plans for flying cars in the future. BlackBird does not dispute that pilots receive compensation and that planes should pass safety inspections. Likewise, pilot regulatory oversight is also supported. But Davis disagrees with how the FAA is interpreting its platform in relation to its existing rules and regulations.

The main area where confusion and disagreement are occurring involves the separation of BlackBird planes and pilots. On BlackBird’s ride-sharing apps, customers can locate a plane and pilot separately in securing a charter flight. While charter flights are permissible under the FAA regulations, the legality of this separation of charter services is less clear. And with new technology innovations, BlackBird suggests that the FAA has simply failed to evolve adequately with the times. Unless the FAA and BlackBird can resolve this issue, it’s likely they will end up in court for final resolution. Both sides currently believe their interpretation of the regulations is correct.

BlackBird Planes and Pilots Ready to Fly

As far as BlackBird is concerned, they are moving forward with plans to scale operations (for more on the future of aviation, check out this Bold story on hypersonic transport!). In addition to the sizable venture capital acquired from New Enterprise Association, Blackbird has a stellar board. In addition to members from Airbnb, Pinterest, and Google, Blackbird recently added Brian Hsu. Formerly with eBay and also COO of Lyft’s supply operations, Hsu has tremendous expertise. Therefore, he is expected to offer top-level advice on how Blackbird plans and pilot services can be scaled effectively.

Naturally, in order to continue with its current platform of ride-sharing apps, Blackbird will need to resolve FAA issues. However, even if the FAA succeeds in its efforts, Blackbird could still potentially continue with its more traditional charter services. Offerings would then only include a selection of Blackbird planes and pilots as a package deal rather than separately. While this would significantly reduce its number of listings, the service could still be beneficial to consumers. However, ideally, Blackbird hopes to educate the FAA on how its current ride-sharing apps align with FAA regulations. If they achieve this, then Blackbird’s potential for success expands tremendously.

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