Dec. 20, 2018

Two recent enforcement cases highlight current federal agency focus on illegal charter operations and examine what is a flight department’s liability if intentionally or unknowingly using an illegal charter operator for supplemental lift?

Earlier this month, the FAA proposed a $624,000 civil penalty against a California-based operator for allegedly conducting illegal passenger-carrying flights. Review an FAA release highlighting the safety hazards of illegal charter operations.

A surge in recent DOT and FAA enforcement cases highlights the need for flight departments using charter operators for supplemental lift to be cautious in vetting operators, as these operations have implications for insurance, brand protection and even civil liability.

“In the event of an accident occurring during illegal charter operations, aircraft insurance is likely not in effect because the aircraft operator misrepresented the intended use of the aircraft to insurance underwriters,” said Kali Hague, an attorney at Jetlaw. “Passengers or their estates may come back on the flight department that secured the transportation and sue for negligence.”

Protecting a company’s brand is another reason to vet supplemental lift providers carefully. Media reports following illegal charter enforcement activity or an accident involving illegal charter often include passenger names or other companies involved in the operation, even peripherally.

Hague said this type of media coverage may cause the public to wonder if a company, even if unknowingly using an illegal charter, is cutting corners or is involved in illegal activity.

Civil penalties against the passengers or purchasers of illegal charter are uncommon, but passengers or purchasers could be held liable for penalties if they were knowingly involved in an illegal charter scheme.

“Conducting due diligence before using an operator for supplemental lift is critical. Always ask a potential supplemental lift provider for its air carrier certificate number and verify the certificate number through the FAA’s website,” said Hague. “Illegal charter operations are not complying with mandatory Part 135 regulations. These illegal operators consistently violate pilot rest and duty requirements, weather limitations and other regulations put in place to keep passengers safe in commercial operations.”

Suspicious activity should be reported to the FAA’s Illegal Charter Reporting Hotline, maintained by the Air Charter Safety Foundation at 888-SKY-FLT1 and the NBAA Air Charter Consumer Guide may be consulted for further guidance on vetting supplemental lift.