Uber’s Sundance Flights Were Both Legal, Illegal

By Staff Writer | February 3, 2016
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Uber broke local law when it ferried visitors by helicopter to and from residential Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, said local zoning authorities.
The FAA told R&WI that Uber had violated no federal aviation regulations with respect to its Jan. 23 ferry flights. “Certificated commercial air taxi (part 135) operators performed all of the operations and completed satisfactory ramp checks on the aircraft prior to use,” said the agency. However, it clarified that “Summit County officials have jurisdiction over the land use issues that were raised.”
Although FAA jurisdiction generally ends at the surface, helicopters on the ground still are subject to local rules governing private and public-use lands. This leaves aviators responsible for seeking permission from the necessary authorities before landing outside of an airport.
In Uber's case, that would have meant applying for a conditional use permit from the Summit County Planning & Zoning Department, which oversees the residential area of Park City, Utah, where the Airbus-built helicopters touched down. Furthermore, according to a source at the department, whenever local zoning laws are unclear about the legality of a given request, it still falls to the community development director to make the final determination. Uber failed to request a permit even after that official had sent emails prohibiting the air taxi operation.

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