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Charter for Your Short-Term Airlift Requirements

by David Wyndham 1. October 2004 00:00
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Your aircraft could be in the shop for a few weeks, or you could have a short term need for a lot of extra flying. If your aviation operations are already at or near the maximum utilization for your operation, you will need to look at other alternatives. Charter is an excellent "relief valve" for those times when you need extra flying for a brief period.

Charter is also a good alternative if you need a handful of hours for a mission your current aircraft can't handle well. Maybe your domestic US operation needs an international trip. Maybe your global business jet isn't the best aircraft to fly three people into that 3500 foot long runway.

For this discussion, lets assume your needs are short term and amount to under 50 hours a year.

The first step is to figure out what type of aircraft you need. As you already run an aviation operation, you know that depends on the mission – passengers, range, runways, etc. 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.

Some brokers advertise themselves claiming to have "our fleet of over 2,000 jet aircraft" available. Be wary of such a representation. The US Department of Transportation (DoT) is. A recently released white paper, DOCID: fr18oc04-123 provides new guidance regarding air charter brokers.

The DoT's concern is a broker holding themselves out as a direct provider of air transportation without having a lawful certificate from the FAA. From that white paper, "… air charter brokers without appropriate economic authority may not hold out air transportation in their own right or enter as principals into contracts with customers to provide air transportation." So a broker that acts as a highly specialized travel agent selling you a trip on XYZ Air Charter Company is OK with the DoT. One that sells their fleet of 2,000 jet aircraft direct to you may be seeing some increased scrutiny from the FAA and DoT.

What can a broker do that you can't do yourself? It depends. If your in-house aviation department does a lot of charter and has built up a relationship with one or more charter providers, then maybe not much. 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 members? 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. What is the policy on flying into mountainous airports? If you are looking to operate into airports with special procedures, how does your charter company handle that?

If you are dealing with a charter broker, they should have all this information. Verify it. One charter broker claimed that all "their" aircraft were either Wyvern or ARG/US certified. A spokesman for Wyvern said that they were never directly contacted by that broker and thus, can't confirm.

Like anything in business, relationships are important. Whether you are looking for a few hours a month or a longer term relationship, too much is at risk not to do the work up front.

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David Wyndham



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