Following on from our article “Gray Charter. “Part 134 1/2”. What is Illegal Jet Charter?” here are 7 questions you need to ask your charter broker or operator to ensure you unwittingly don’t end up on an illegal charter flight.
1 | Is the aircraft on a charter certificate in accordance with the FAA?
Ask to see an operating certificate. Authentic aircraft management companies and charter operators will happily send you their Air Carrier Certificate. This commercial operating certificate is required and authorized from the U.S Department of Transport – Federal Aviation Administration in order to provide air transportation of persons or property for compensation for hire. This certificate carries the certificate number, effective date, issued at location and Administrator’s signature. Ask your operator or broker for confirmation that the specific aircraft is licensed on that given certificate.
Business aircraft that are available for charter, placed on an Air Charter Certificate operate under FAR part 135, and are such required to comply with these stringent operations.
One other place to access fleet information is http://aircharterguide.com/Operators. Here you can search air charter operators. This gives an overview of the aircraft types in their fleet and when the certificate was established. Illegal operators will not show up in any searches.
2 | Is the specific aircraft insured for you trip?
Your direct aircraft operator will be able to show you their certificate or verification of insurance for the specific tail number registered aircraft. The aircraft liability coverage will be displayed along with the limits of liability, and the company the insurance is issued by.
3 | Is the flight crew qualified and properly managed for charter flights?
Chartering a business jet with a legitimate Part 135 operator is much safer as the regulations require crew to comply with very stringent FAA standards. All pilots are specifically trained in the exact make and model of aircraft and must pass a series of written and simulator tests. Upon completion of which, they are typed rated in that aircraft. Under Part 135 operations, all charter operations Pilots-in-Command must conduct recurrent training every 6 months in that given business jet (Second-in-Command pilots train every 12 months).
When initially hiring pilots, aircraft owners and aircraft management companies ideally require them to possess a minimum number of hours ‘Total Time’ and as ‘Pilot-in-Command’, and in the specific aircraft type. Furthermore, background security checks are mandatory for all crew personnel, as well as maintenance technicians and licensed dispatchers. These include initial and ongoing drug and alcohol testing, criminal background checks, driving record checks, FAA certificate/license checks and FAA records checks.
Under 135 charter operations, pilot flying time is regulated through duty time, flight time and rest periods. Pilots will be on duty for up to 14 hours, of which they can fly for 10 hours, before a mandatory rest period of 10 hours is required before duty times restarts. These safety measures ensure the crew are not overcome by fatigue when flying passengers or property.
4 | Is the aircraft operated, managed and maintained properly?
Asking how the aircraft is operated and maintained should be met with a response that includes Safety Management Systems in place, Operating Specifications manuals, Maintenance tracking software and the aircraft maintained to OEM’s standards and best practices. Safety accreditation will include ARGUS ratings (Platinum being the highest achievable) and IS-BAO registrations (Stage 3 is the pinnacle). These are sets of performance-base and process-orientated standards that are recognized as the ultimate validation of operational excellence and flight safety best practices.
5. Who has Operational Control of the charter flight(s)?
First you need to know what Operational Control is. Operational Control “with respect to a flight; means the exercise of authority over initiating, conducting or terminating a flight.” Operational control involves three basic areas: Aircrew, Aircraft, and Flight Management. When chartering an aircraft, the charter air carrier has operational control and is responsible for regulatory compliance and the safety of the flight. When an aircraft lessee operates an aircraft under general operating rules, the lessee accepts operational control responsibilities.
So, the answer to your operation control question will reveal if the flight is illegal or legal. You are either a paying passenger with no operational control, or you become the “operator” of the trip through leasing the aircraft under a sham dry lease agreement.
6. How much are you paying?
When the low cost of a trip looks too good to be true, then most likely it is. Legitimate jet charter companies have high fixed costs in order to be compliant with the higher standards Part 135 regulations require maintain their certificate. Flight crew frequent training events much more often. Maintenance is tracked, forecasted, conducted and recorded to OEM standards. Safety Management Systems are in place and adhered to by all employees. All of which ensure the protection of the paying passenger – you the charter customer. Portions of these costs are included in the cost of the charter trip, otherwise the charter management company would be operating charter flights at a loss. The illegal operators that circumvent the regulations and the cost of higher standards, look to gain revenue by offering below market rates since their overheads are significantly less.
Surely the reward of peace of mind and protection by far outweighs any discounts on market rate charter flights.
7. What does this clause in my contract mean?
If there is a term that you do not completely understand in your contract, do not be afraid to ask for clarity. Many illegal charter operators create sham dry lease agreements that obscure and confuse terms just to make a quick buck. If the operator avoids explaining any terms and clauses or is evasive to any concerns you have, take this as warning signs. A legitimate aircraft operator will be transparent, helpful and impart knowledge.
One major item to look for is if a company/operator provides the aircraft and at least one crewmember, yet attempts to transfer operational control to you, the charter customer, via any document.
Protect yourself by avoiding illegal jet charter. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions; no legitimate aircraft charter management company would uncomfortable answering them. In fact, they would encourage weeding out the unsafe rule-breakers so that charter users are kept safe and legal when flying.