For many companies, chartering a business aircraft is their first experience with Business Aviation. For experienced flight departments, charter is also a means for obtaining supplemental lift. This article is adapted from one published in the May/June issue of Business Aviation Advisor.

Chartering is a highly advantageous and multiple-dimensional form of Business Aviation. It is a way to access the benefits of business air travel without any long term commitments. Booking a charter flight can be done with a single phone call, or by visiting a web site specializing in booking on-demand air travel. Charter is safe, efficient, and when used appropriately, cost effective. Let’s take a look.

Traditionally, the user pays for the charter aircraft on a per-flight or per-trip basis. This form of Business Aviation may also be pre-paid via a contract for a given number of flight hours with a specific provider, or by purchasing a jet card (which is in fact a variety of pre-paid charter). Jet card programs have set prices, a set number of hours (usually 25), and a set category of aircraft such as a mid-size business jet.

Charter Is Safe

Charter operators are licensed by the FAA in the US under a regulation referred to as FAR Part 135, which covers on-demand charter for aircraft that generally have 30 or fewer passenger seats. Part 135 governs how chartered aircraft are operated, maintained and staffed. Crew duty and rest time and other safety-of-flight items that range from bookkeeping to weather are also addressed in government regulations. Charter operators can be licensed for a specific region, such as the US, Canada, Europe, etc., and some have worldwide operating authority.

In addition, many charter operators, especially those with turbine-powered aircraft, have independent safety audits performed periodically. While the FAA or other aviation regulatory authority sets the minimum standards, external safety audits by non-government specialists encourage a higher standard of safety. Many of these programs offer varying levels of certification.

Some of the best-known commercial firms doing these audit surveys are

ARG/US and Wyvern. A designation of Platinum is the highest level of audit by the former; Wyvern’s highest level is called Wingman. Several not-for-profit associations such as the Flight Safety Foundation and the Air Charter Safety Foundation certify safety audit companies.

The International Business Aviation Council, Ltd. (IBAC) promotes its International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), which is a code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve a high level of safety and professionalism. Many air charter operators also conform to this standard.

Charter is Efficient

With charter, you have the flexibility to tailor the business aircraft to each mission. Whether you need to carry two people 300 miles or 12 people 4,000 miles, there is a charter aircraft suited to your trip. The ability to right-size the aircraft means that companies requiring shorter trips with few people do not need to pay the higher cost for the larger, long range aircraft.

Charter trips are flown to your schedule from public-use airports that are likely within 30 minutes of your ground destination. The number of such airports exceeds by a factor of 10 the number of locations with scheduled airline flights, and by nearly 100 times the number of airports with convenient airline departures. The time spent at the airport is minimized using private air terminals. The crew knows who the passengers are in advance, so security is assured with a minimum of fuss and no embarrassment.

Within the confines of the crew duty and rest regulations, a trip that might take two or three days via the airlines can often be accomplished without an overnight stay. When adding up the time spent not traveling via the airlines and the money saved by not spending nights in hotels, plus the fact that as many passengers as the aircraft can carry may be transported for the price of the charter, the total cost of travel can be particularly attractive.

Charter Is Cost Effective

For example, a trip for four people via the scheduled airlines might cost $3,200 for airfare, plus an additional $1,000 for lodging, ground transport from airline airport to ultimate destination, and meals. Chartering a twin-engine turboprop for four hours costs about the same amount, which is a fair trade when considering the reduced wear and tear on your business executives, as well as the more productive use of their time while traveling (e.g., holding company-sensitive conversations or working on proprietary documents without concern for who is sitting in the next seat).

Charter is also a cost effective means of adding an aircraft to your existing business aircraft operation. There may be times when your own aircraft is unavailable due to maintenance, or it is already scheduled for a trip. The charter option can add another aircraft to your flight schedule without having to add another aircraft in your hangar.

Charter Aircraft Best Practices

There needs to be clear guidance regarding the use of charter aircraft. In general, a company’s charter policy should cover the following major areas:

  • When is charter justified? There is no denying that Business Aviation is a preferred method of travel. Even if you don’t own an aircraft, you still need clear direction regarding who is authorized to use air charter and when it may be authorized. The rationale for authorization may be a combination of cost, travel time avoided, and urgency of the trip.
  • Who needs to schedule the service? If you have an in-house flight department, then the department’s leadership is the best means for managing the charter. If there is an in-house travel group, then they may be tasked with this duty. Regardless, the persons scheduling air charter must be familiar with the corporate rules and requirements for using the service.
  • What are the safety requirements? The charter operator should exceed the FAA’s minimum regulatory requirements. This is best confirmed by the operator providing proof of a third-party safety audit and proof of insurance. Your in-house risk management may have specific liability coverage requirements as well. Levels of training and experience of the crews should be available, and letters of recommendation are a big plus. The latter also can help to confirm that the advertised level of service matches the provider’s documented experience.

Charter is an excellent way to experience the benefits of Business Aviation. There are thousands of non-airline airports in the US, thousands more across the globe. Business aircraft, chartered according to your company’s needs, enables an efficient use of executives’ time.