June 2, 2020

With concerns growing over illegal charter operations, the FAA recently issued an informational notice reiterating that private pilots generally cannot operate an aircraft, or act as pilot-in-command of an aircraft carrying persons or property, for compensation or hire.

“The FAA recognizes that there is a trend in the industry toward using computer and cell phone applications to facilitate air transportation by connecting potential passengers to aircraft owners and pilots willing to provide professional services,” the letter states. “Some of these applications enable the provision – directly or indirectly – of both an aircraft and one or more crewmembers to customers seeking air transportation.”

The notice also clarifies that pilots must hold a commercial rating or airline transport pilot license to operate flights for compensation, and must either be employed as a direct employee or agent for the operator under Part 135, or hold a Part 119 certificate themselves.

Read the full letter.

The agency also cautions pilots to avoid a “common pitfall” when operating aircraft under a dry lease agreement that may actually be a “wet lease in disguise,” when one or more parties act in concert to provide an aircraft and crewmembers to a potential passenger. The FAA then points to Advisory Circular (AC) 91-37B, “Truth in Leasing” for greater clarification of these distinctions.

“This informal letter to pilots further emphasizes the need for diligence by members of the aviation community, when operating under complex lease structures or receiving reimbursement or remuneration,” said Brian Koester, CAM, NBAA director for flight operations and regulations. “While many leases are necessary, and perfectly legal, NBAA members need to be well educated on the differences.”

Koester emphasized that operators should view the letter as another sign the FAA continues to invest resources to combat illegal charter operations. The agency recently provided expanded guidance to inspectors regarding leases as well and has stepped-up enforcement actions and penalties against suspected violators.