Flying For Hire Is More Than Just Having A Commercial Pilot Certificate

by Pete Schoeninger
Copyright 2021. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine – April/May 2021 issue

Q: I want to start giving limited seaplane rides for hire from the lake where I have a house and keep my floatplane during summers. I have a Commercial Pilot Certificate and maintain my airplane with 100-hour/annual inspections. A friend said I needed to contact the “feds” for an approval? Is that true?

A: You will probably need a “letter of authorization” from your nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). I urge you to contact them before starting flights for hire this spring. And if you are carrying passengers any distance, you may also need to get a Part 135 Air Taxi Certificate, which is a major undertaking. I hate to rain on your parade, but many people have looked into this and decided not to do it as insurance premiums on floatplanes operating for hire is expensive. Call your insurance agent and be sitting down when you do. In addition, there are other hoops you may have to jump through. Look at page 8 of the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine for the closing paragraph of an excellent article entitled “Illegal Charter Doesn’t Just Happen In Business Jets” by Attorney Greg Reigel in which he states: “If any money is going to be changing hands….”

Q: My flight instructor told me if I was an old geezer like him, the requirements for a signoff for tailwheel, high-performance, and complex gear operations might not be needed if I flew those airplanes before a certain date. Is that true? After you answer that, I have more questions to follow.

A: A tailwheel endorsement is not needed if a person has logged PIC (Pilot In Command) time in a tailwheel airplane before April of 1991. A high-performance, or complex gear endorsement, is not needed if a pilot has logged time in those airplanes as PIC before August 1997.

Follow up questions: 

Q #1: What is the difference between high-performance airplane and a complex airplane?  

A: High-performance airplanes are defined as airplanes that have MORE than 200 hp. Complex airplanes have retractable gear, flaps, and a constant speed prop. An example of a high-performance airplane would be the Cherokee 235 Pathfinder (235 hp, but fixed landing gear.)  An example of a complex airplane could be a Piper Arrow of any year. 

Q #2: My instructor won’t sign me off for a tailwheel endorsement even though he has given me a few hours of dual instruction this winter in his Aeronca Champ on skis? His answer is that I need time on wheels to get a tailwheel endorsement. I could not find that in the regulations, anywhere? 

A: One challenge of learning to fly tailwheel airplanes is keeping the airplane going straight while landing or taking off, which is a challenge on wheels, but not on skis. When on skis on snow, the airplane will track pretty straight, except if on bare ice. I agree with your instructor… For you to be endorsed as competent in tailwheel airplanes, you should get some real experience/dual instruction and become competent first on wheels.

Q: Our local Chamber of Commerce is having a big shindig next spring at our local golf course. I am a member of the chamber and have been asked to fly one of our planes onto the golf course. I would like to do this as it would be a unique publicity stunt. Do you have any experience with stuff like this?

A: Here I would tell you, do as I say, not as I have done. I would NOT recommend that you do so, as whatever you gain in publicity, would be a drop in the bucket compared to the bad publicity if you scare neighbors, or God forbid, have an accident. Instead, invite the chamber out to your airport. Golf courses are for driving golf balls…airports are made for driving airplanes!        

Q: My local airframe and powerplant mechanic has a good reputation as an engine rebuilder. He says even if he replaces most all of the parts of an engine at overhaul, the total time of the engine does not change, so there might be a logbook entry something like: “Engine total time 1944 hours, since major overhaul (SMOH) 0 hours?

A: Only the factory can grant “zero time” to a rebuilt engine. It is really not a big deal on small engines. On larger engines, a “factory rebuild” may add a few bucks to value, but usually costs more than a local rebuild like your friend is doing.

Q: Does the FAA ever sanction a frozen lake as a runway?

A: Yes, only one to my knowledge, in New Hampshire. Do an Internet search for “frozen runway, Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H.” Many other lakes are used occasionally by knowledgeable pilots, but use extreme caution and consult with experienced local pilots first.

Q: My local FBO, and the FBO at my former residence, both limit the range of rental airplanes to 300 miles. Couldn’t they make more money having renters like me fly long distances with their airplanes?

A: I’ll give you a few scenarios that I have personally experienced as an FBO manager before I too began to limit rental range: 1) For 3 weeks in a row, a renter had my Cutlass RG reserved for a 500-mile weekend trip. But either Friday late afternoon or early Saturday morning he called and cancelled because of crummy weather at his destination. So, we turned down numerous requests to rent the airplane that weekend, and now here it was, great weather at our airport, and the airplane was suddenly not scheduled, costing me close to a thousand dollars in lost revenue. 2) When a rental airplane is far from home, and develops a mechanical glitch, (usually very minor), often on a weekend, it can’t get fixed until at least Monday (if the destination airport has a mechanic). But, the renter has to be back to his job Monday morning, and the temptation for the renter is to just leave the airplane, buy an airline ticket or rent a car to get home, leaving the FBO’s airplane far from home. Then there is a battle over who pays for the retrieval, which is many hundreds of dollars in extra cost. You can see that this can cost the owner (me) and the renter financial and scheduling headaches. If the glitch happened relatively nearby, I could get my mechanic who was also a pilot to fly with me to the nearby airport, and either fix it on the spot, or ferry the airplane home often the same day.

Q: The Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for my (new-to-me) airplane gives clear instructions on both best angle of climb speed, and best rate of climb speed. But the POH recommends NOT raising the landing gear until I am well clear of all obstacles when climbing (at best angle of climb speed) out of a short field. I don’t understand this, as I am positive the airplane climbs better with wheels up? 

A: Yes, you are right, but during the transition of wheels being retracted, there often is significantly MORE drag during the several seconds it takes to get the wheels tucked away. In fact, as you gain experience in the airplane, you will notice a significant drag increase while wheels are coming up. So, you are usually best to leave the wheels down until well clear of obstacles at the end of the runway.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pete Schoeninger is a 40-year general aviation veteran, starting out as a line technician as a teenager, advancing through the ranks to become the co-owner and manager of a fixed base operation, and manager of an airport in a major metropolitan community. He welcomes questions and comments via email at or call 262-533-3056.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others, and refer to aircraft owner manuals, manufacturer recommendations, the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials for guidance on aeronautical matters.

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