July 20--For the harried traveler tired of spending interminable amounts of time in traffic before taking a ferry to get to the Vineyard or Nantucket, the Uber of the air could offer a new way to get away.
MassChallenge finalist AirPooler, a web-based, flight-sharing service that hopes to launch in Boston this summer, was founded last August by Steve Lewis and Andy Finke, who both came from backgrounds in travel technology -- Lewis from ITA Software, a Cambridge company with an airfare-pricing-and-shopping system, and Finke from Zipcar.
"We were thinking where the new frontier would be," Lewis said. "There had been tremendous progress in making researching places and planning travel easier and more enjoyable. But when it came to actually getting around, it was still a huge hassle."
The two decided to launch a website where private pilots of light aircraft with vacant seats could list their flights, and people going to the same places could arrange to fly with them in exchange for sharing costs such as fuel or plane-rental fees.
Leaving out of Logan International Airport in Boston, a roundtrip flight on a Cessna 172 with three people, including the pilot, for example, would take approximately 1.1 hours at a cost of $47 per person to Martha's Vineyard, 1.4 hours at $60 per person to Nantucket and 3.1 hours at $132 per person to Bar Harbor, Maine.
All of the costs are estimates and could be recalculated by the system to reflect factors such as time spent waiting on the runway, or alterations to a flight plan that added or subtracted distance to or from the trip. Passengers also would pay AirPooler's 20 percent fee.
For the time being, however, AirPooler's plans to launch locally are on hold while it awaits a response to a May 19 letter it says it sent to the FAA, requesting that the agency confirm that any pilots who might list flights on the company's website would be in compliance with FAA regulations since they would be sharing the cost of flights, rather than profiting from them.
Until it receives that confirmation, AirPooler has suggested that pilots refrain from listing flights on the West Coast, where it launched earlier this year.
In a statement Friday, the FAA said only that it had not been contacted by Air Pooler about beginning operations in the Boston area.
Asked what the company's plans are if the FAA does not give it the legal interpretation it's seeking, Lewis said: "We really haven't thought about that. We recognize this is a difficult issue for the FAA. The regulations in question were issued long before operations of this sort were possible, and the agency needs a reasonable amount of time to evaluate the legal implications. But we're confident they will respond in the near future."
In January, two Northeastern University students launched a similar flight-sharing website called Flytenow.
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