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The Risks of Illegal Charters and How to Avoid Them

As more and more people look for ways to avoid flying with commercial airlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in private flights has greatly increased. Charter flights are a popular option for those new to private aviation, especially if they don’t have a need to fly often. While many charter operations are professional and legitimate, illegal charters can pose a problem if you don’t know what to look for.

Illegal charter has been a problem since the charter business model began but saw an increase in 2008 when the recession hit. The FAA and other regulatory agencies have focused their efforts on this problem in recent years, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and catch the signs of an illegal operation that might otherwise easily go unnoticed. These small things can have an impact on your safety and your wallet.

What is illegal charter?

Illegal charter occurs when a company or person is registered as Part 91 but is using their aircraft for what would be Part 135 operations. In layman’s terms, Part 135, a standard legal commercial operation, must uphold much higher standards in maintenance, operations, and piloting when compared to Part 91, which is non-commercial. Others simply aren’t registered as a Part 91 operator at all.

Some operators are unaware, simply helping out by providing a flight to someone in need for a cost but without the proper authority to do so. Others are operating negligently or simply don’t understand the regulations. Others are outright illegal, purposefully ignoring the rules. In any scenario, this is not the safe way to fly privately.

There are many risks associated with flying with illegal charters including:

Reliability – There have been many publicized cases of someone hiring a charter flight only to be stranded when the aircraft never shows up. They are often unable to recoup their financial investment for the flight.

Safety – When you’re not flying through a well-known, vetted operation, there’s no way of knowing whether the aircraft has been properly maintained or if the pilots have the right training and certifications for the aircraft.

Costs – Illegal charter operations can charge what they want, add costs when not expected, and make it impossible to get a refund when the aircraft is a no-show.

Liability – Operational control is an important factor in charter flights. This signifies who has the ultimate authority and responsibility for maintaining aircraft, the people that are flying them, and the logistical operation of the flight. In charter, operational control must be maintained by the charter operator. In illegal charters, operational control is sometimes passed on to unwitting flyers, meaning they are liable if anything goes wrong. In some cases, passengers have lost millions of dollars.

What can you do?

Simply put – due diligence. You are ultimately the one who must determine if a charter operation is legal or not before you fly. Here’s a list of questions you should be asking:

  • Am I booking a charter flight through a reputable broker or program? How long has this operator been in business? Research the company’s reputation.
  • Are the pilots highly trained and type-rated to fly the aircraft?
  • How old is the aircraft?
  • What are the maintenance protocols for this aircraft?
  • Are the maintenance technicians highly trained for this specific aircraft, and has it been properly maintained?
  • Has the charter operation received certification from ARGUS or IS-BAO, two independent organizations that assess and rank the safety of charter operations?
  • What are all the costs associated with the charter reservation?
  • What is the plan if the pilot or aircraft are unable to fulfill my flight?
  • Do the documents attempt to transfer operations control to me?
  • Am I paying Federal Excise tax for this flight? All charter operators are required to charge this to the client. If the price is too good to be true, that’s a sign to look more closely.
  • Did the pilots conduct a safety briefing and are there passenger safety cards on board as required?
  • Is the charter operator begin evasive with my questions and concerns? Legitimate operators will be transparent and helpful.
  • Is the pilot or someone associated with the company coaching me on what to say or do if an FAA inspector meets the aircraft at its destination?

A Better Solution

To avoid all the hassles of charter flights, those seeking to fly privately could choose a different, more reliable program, such as the PlaneSense® fractional program. Providing world class service for 25 years, the PlaneSense® program offers a cost-effective ownership solution for private flights with expertly maintained aircraft, highly trained pilots, and an unwavering commitment to safety. Recognized across the aviation industry for its practices and attention to detail, the PlaneSense® program serves the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America with a large fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft. Share owners in the program enjoy guaranteed access to flights, no hidden costs, and no black out dates. To fly with a company you can trust, call today at 866-214-1212.

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