FAA Publishes Clarification Regarding Fuel Reimbursement Exemption For Charitable Medical Flights

by Greg Reigel

On February 22, 2013, the FAA published a Policy Clarification on Charitable Medical Flights addressing the reimbursement of fuel expenses for pilots.

As you may recall, 14 C.F.R. 61.113 prohibits a private pilot from acting as pilot-in-command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire and, for any other flight carrying passengers, a private pilot may not pay less than his or her pro rata share of the operating expenses (fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees). In order to pay less than his or her pro rata share, the pilot would have to hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate. As a result, up until recently, private pilots operating charitable medical flights could not receive reimbursement for their fuel, etc., without complying with Section 61.113, which defeated the purpose of a “charitable” medical flight.

However, Section 821 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 addressed the situation and now requires that the FAA allow an aircraft owner or operator to accept reimbursement from a volunteer pilot organization, such as Angel Flight, or Wings of Mercy, for the fuel costs associated with a flight operation to provide transportation for an individual or organ for medical purposes. In order to take advantage of this law, volunteer pilot organizations have petitioned the FAA for exemptions from the requirements of Section 61.113(c) so that their pilots can be reimbursed for some or all of the expenses they incur while flying these flights, since the flights would otherwise be prohibited.

The FAA will issue these exemptions if the applying volunteer pilot organization complies with the following conditions and limitations by:
1. Developing a pilot qualification and training program;
2. Authenticating pilots’ FAA certification;
3. Requiring flight release documentation;
4. Imposing minimum pilot qualifications (flight hours, recency of experience, etc.);
5. Requiring a Second Class FAA Medical Certificate;
6. Requiring the filing of an instrument flight plan for each flight;
7. Restricting pilots to flight and duty time limitations;
8. Requiring mandatory briefings for passengers;
9. Imposing higher aircraft airworthiness requirements; and
10. Requiring higher Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) minimums.

Although these are the current restrictions, the various volunteer pilot organizations and Air Care Alliance are continuing to work with the FAA to reduce these burdens that are placed on volunteer pilots, and organizations, which reimburse fuel. Fortunately, the FAA has indicated that it “will continuously update these conditions and limitations as necessary to best ensure that these operations meet this equivalent level of safety.” Hopefully, those discussions will be productive and meaningful. But for now, fuel reimbursement should be available if the conditions for the exemption are met.

EDITORS NOTE: Greg Reigel is an attorney with Reigel Law Firm, Ltd., a law firm located in Hopkins, Minnesota, which represents clients in aviation and business law matters (www.aerolegalservices.com, 952-238-1060).

Email your questions or comments to: greigel@aerolegalservices.com.

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