May 25, 2020

Business aviation is attracting new customers during the COVID-19 pandemic as travelers seek to minimize their potential exposure to the virus and react to flight reductions by commercial airlines. As a result, many aircraft flight departments and Part 91 operators may be faced with situations in which they accept payment or reimbursement for flying a passenger – and unwittingly put themselves and passengers at risk by operating an illegal charter flight.

Doing so can reap severe penalties and fines, and the FAA is pouring more resources into combatting illegal charter operations.

As part of its NBAA News Hour series, the association recently hosted a one-hour webinar entitled “How to Avoid Illegal Charters as We Emerge from COVID-19.” Moderated by Brian Koester, NBAA director of flight operations and regulations, the webinar featured advice from a panel of experts who addressed some of the issues flight departments and operators must consider to avoid operating an illegal charter.

They also discussed recent changes to the Order 8900 guidance relating to 91.23 trip and leasing requirements.

Panel members were: Eileen Gleimer, partner of Crowell & Moring LLP; David Norton, partner of Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton LLP; Ronald Brower, senior vice president and senior aviation counsel of Wheels Up, and Joanne Barbera, founding partner of Barbera & Watkins, LLC.

Discussion centered around whether an operator can conduct certain flights under Part 91, or whether the operator must have an Air Carrier Certificate and operate as a Part 135.

“Part of the problem that we see people running into on a frequent basis, is that many of the rules are counterintuitive,” said Brower. “Many of the rules are not obvious. It is not a moral right or wrong to want to save money for your company or to have reimbursement for things you do to help someone else.”

Nonetheless, the regulatory, safety and security considerations surrounding flight operations are complex and require proceeding with caution. With few exceptions, Part 91 operators are barred from carrying passengers for compensation or hire. The best option for anyone unsure about the regulations covering charter operations, according to the panel, is to seek advice from the experts.

NBAA offers resources to assist passengers and operators in determining what is allowed under different operating certificates and letters of deviation authority, including the association’s “Guide to Selling Charter by the Seat” and its “Air Charter Consumer Guide”. View NBAA’s charter resources.

The Air Charter Safety Foundation also manages an illegal charter hotline on behalf of the FAA at 888-SKY-FLT1.