WASHINGTON — When U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford isn’t fighting government spending, he’s championing legislation to expand individual rights and knock down bureaucratic barriers.
The South Carolina Republican’s latest effort to promote “flight sharing” fits this mold. Specifically, he wants to require the Federal Aviation Administration to make it easier for private pilots to communicate with the public about opportunities to share flights and split costs.
Pilots flying private planes currently are allowed to post signs in pilots’ lounges to solicit passengers for flights with empty seats. But they aren’t allowed to do so using electronic communications services. Internet-based “flight-sharing” platforms — similar to car-ride business Uber — were recently shut down for noncompliance.
“Welcome to Washington,” Sanford said of the regulatory red tape. “Think about this: If I put a three-and-a-half by five (inch) card with a thumbtack up on the bulletin board, it’s totally legal and fine. But if I do it virtually, now it’s against the law.”
Sanford’s legislative proposal would address this discrepancy, mandating the FAA allow those internet platforms to operate again as long as they follow agency rules. The assumption is this would make it easier for flight-sharing to thrive as an industry in what Sanford refers to as the emerging “sharing economy.”
“This is the next generation,” Sanford said. “With cars, airplanes, homes. I mean whether political forces and bureaucrats fight it or not, I think it is still ultimately the prevailing side of history given where millennials are. Millennials don’t want to own; they want the experience.”
Sanford learned of the issue from a pilot in his home district. He couldn’t remember how the conversation came about, but Sanford said the constituent might have been a friend of his brother, who also is a pilot.
“He said, ‘this is kind of dumb, did you know?’ And I said, ‘I did not,’ ” Sanford recalled. “So then we began to do more homework and dig into it and then we sort of latched onto it.”
Plus, Sanford added, “if you’re a conservative and you like the idea of maximizing the use of resources, this is an idea that makes sense.”
Sanford is seeing momentum on the issue. As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Sanford submitted his proposal as an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill, drawing from similar legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. It was adopted.
While the House’s FAA measure was passed by the committee, disagreements over whether to privatize air-traffic control put floor debate on permanent hold. Meanwhile, the full U.S. Senate has passed its own FAA reauthorization bill that doesn’t include Sanford’s amendment.
At some point both chambers will form a conference committee to negotiate a combined bill where the flight-sharing provision could get included. If Sanford is appointed to the conference committee, he will be in a position to advocate for it. Otherwise, he’ll probably have to find an ally to defend it.
But Sanford thinks negotiators will leave his language alone.
“It’s not my provision that’s going to gum it up,” he said.
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.