Business is slowly improving, and with it, flying activity. Several companies we work with are seeing increasing demand for flying internationally. These trips cover long distances. For them, their current aircraft is not suited to the job of long-range air travel. It is a combination of being too small and lacking sufficient range to make such a trip practical and time-efficient. While upgrading the aircraft is certainly an option, and one worth considering if this level of activity will grow considerably, I’d like to recommend charter as an alternative.
Charter is a good alternative if you need a handful of hours for a mission your current aircraft can't handle well. In the cases above, chartering a global jet may be less costly than replacing your current (smaller) jet. While a larger aircraft that does the long-range trips can certainly do the shorter trips, it is more cost effective to get an aircraft that handles 90% of your air travel needs and charter for the remaining 10%. Stepping up from a mid-size business jet to a global business jet can see your operating budget increase 60% to over 100%! Chartering the global jet isn’t cheap, but it can keep your overall budget increase more manageable if those trips are few and infrequent.
Charter rates for long-range jets can vary from $4,000 per hour to $8,000 per hour base rate. New York to London is a different requirement than Los Angeles to Beijing. Go big, but not too big!
Remember that the additional fees for international travel can be substantial: overflight and airways fees, landing and handling fees, customs fees, etc. Make sure that you get trip quotes that estimate those additional fees as much as possible so that your bill isn’t a shocker!
The next step is finding a provider with those aircraft. I'd say the best source for that is the Air Charter Guide. They have the most complete directory of on-demand charter providers. This is a worldwide database. It is available on line or in print. They list Part 135 licensed carriers, their location(s), contact information, aircraft types, and often, base rates. They even note special certifications such as an independent safety audit.
Another source of information for charter aircraft is the charter broker. Some are general in nature while others specialize in specific types of trips; say chartering airliners or aero medical trips. The goal of the broker is to bring together a willing buyer and a willing seller and in the process, make some money. The Air Charter Guide also lists those folks as well. What can a broker do that you can't do yourself? Brokers can add value to the relationship by shopping for competitive rates, providing contingency planning, and in getting the right equipment.
Still, how do you know who you are dealing with is qualified? Regardless of whether you deal with a local charter company, use the Air Charter Guide and call around, or go through a broker, you still need to educate yourself.
Ask your charter operator, or broker some tough questions. The good ones will have the answers. Here are a few items to consider:
1. Is the aircraft that you are being quoted, on the carrier's certificate? If not, what auditing process is in place to ensure the aircraft being flown meets the highest safety standards? Are they independently audited and inspected by someone like ARG/US or Wyvern?
2. How experienced are the crew? You and your insurance carrier have specified minimum experience levels for your own operation. What about the charter provider?
3. Do the pilots go through simulator training? How often? Once per year is the minimum, twice is preferred.
4. How is the safety record of your charter carrier? Have they had any accidents on their certificate or any other certificate that they have held? Have they received any safety awards?
5. In the event of an unexpected maintenance delay, will your charter carrier guarantee a similar replacement aircraft and honor the quoted price?
6. How frequently does your charter carrier have their aircraft painted and refurbished? What is the average age of an aircraft on their fleet? Their aircraft should be at least a nice inside and out as what you regularly operate.
7. How much insurance coverage is carried by the charter provider? $50 to $100 million is typical for turbine operators. Does your company require a higher amount?
8. If you are looking to operate into airports with special procedures, how does your charter company prepare the crew for that?
If you are dealing with a charter broker, they should have all this information. Verify it.
Like anything in business, relationships are important. Whether you are looking for a few hours a month or a long-term relationship, too much is at risk not to do the work up front.