Nov 28, 2018

A recent case before the U.S. District Court highlights the risks of engaging in illegal charter operations and the need for NBAA members to remain vigilant against those offering chartered flights not in compliance with federal regulations.

In early November, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) brought charges against an Oklahoma-based helicopter operator that, over a two-year period, arranged chartered flights onboard fixed-wing aircraft through purported dry-lease agreements.

Unlike a “wet” lease covering the aircraft, required crew members, maintenance and insurance, a dry lease places operational control over the aircraft and all associated liabilities with the customer. However, the DOT determined the operator would then direct clients to hire pilots and other operational services from his company. The operator pleaded guilty to the DOT’s charges and was fined more than $50,000.

To avoid such situations, NBAA Senior Manager, Flight Operations and Regulation Brian Koester noted several options to assist passengers with performing their due diligence when arranging a charter flight. These include NBAA’s Aircraft Charter Consumer Guide, developed by the NBAA Part 135 Subcommittee, which offers tips for identifying credible charter operators and a list of suggested pre-screening questions for vetting a potential charter operator or legal dry lease.

“Aircraft charter is a highly competitive business,” Koester said. “Passengers want the most expeditious option that fits their schedule, and operators are eager to assist them. That said, it’s everyone’s shared responsibility to ensure that such flights are carried out lawfully.”

Those working in business aviation who suspect unlawful charter activity may also contact NBAA’s Operations Service Group or call 888-SKY-FLT1 (888-759-3581) to reach the Illegal Charter Reporting Hotline maintained by Air Charter Safety Foundation.

“These reports are ultimately sent to the FAA, and the agency employs a special emphasis investigation team to determine if a violation has occurred,” Koester added. “The FAA then works with the industry to identify remedies and push that information to stakeholders.”

Congress also highlighted the issue of illegal charter flights in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Section 540 requests the DOT submit a report on illegal charter flights and the ACSF hotline outlining reports and issues tracking down the illegal operators.