This is Part 2 of a two-part article on the value of using business aircraft charter. This article is adapted from one published in the May/June issue of Business Aviation Advisor.
Before you book a trip, you should have travel information available so that you can discuss your options.
The main items to consider before you search are as follows:
- Where are you going?
- How many people are going?
- What sort of baggage will your group have?
- When do you need to arrive?
Answers to the first three questions will determine the size and capability of the aircraft to charter. Baggage can trip you up (pun intended). Just because the aircraft seats six does not mean it can take two large Pullman bags and six sets of golf clubs.
Do not worry about when you want to leave—the aircraft departs on your schedule. Aircraft have different speeds, and depending on the trip length a fuel stop may or may not be needed. The beauty of Business Aviation is that your arrival time, not the scheduled departure time, is the driving force.
Finding Charter Operators
Before the Internet there was the Yellow Pages. That directory still exists, and local charter operators advertise there. You may not find there enough information to determine all the capabilities that an operator offers, nor will you likely see listings for areas outside the immediate locale.
On the other hand, the Internet may too complete. For example, requesting a Google search of “aircraft charter Boston” will produce 4,470,000 results.
Fortunately there are better ways to use the Internet than just a general search. The Air Charter Guide (http://www.aircharterguide.com) is a leading reference for charter airplanes and helicopters. That reference has global listings with contact information, aircraft makes and models, and list prices if publishable. The Guide’s “trip planner” can help you find operators. They also list empty legs — returning trips where the aircraft has no passengers and one-way travel might be available at a reduced price. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has a products and services directory listing air charter operators. (http://data.nbaa.org/prodsvcs/directory/).
While these are very good sources, they do not necessarily help you determine the charter operator’s qualifications. Questions to be asked should address, at a minimum, credentials, safety history, date and results of most recent third-party safety audit, insurance coverage, and general procedures for the trip.
When inquiring about a charter provider, it is appropriate to request the operator’s FAA Air Carrier Operating Certificate number, the particular FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) that oversees the operator and the FAA inspector responsible for that oversight. The FAA will respond to inquiries made directly to the local FSDO (coordinates are located in the phone book under US Government, Transportation, Department of). Auditors of charter operators should have relevant FAA information within their audit report.
Arranging an aircraft charter can get complicated, especially if you have never done it previously or the trip is flown outside the US. Thus you may need the services of a Charter Broker, which as the name implies will arrange or “broker” a flight for you. Both the Air Charter Guide and NBAA have listings for aircraft charter brokers.
Brokers typically act as an agent of the charter operator and do not operate the aircraft themselves. The charter broker is skilled at matching your trip requirements to the charter company. They will take care of the details, provide you with a quote, and probably offer concierge services such as arranging hotels, ground transportation and other services that you may require. They may even handle all the trip billing. Charter brokers can save you a lot of time, offer you multiple aircraft options for the trip, and can provide trip-following and account management. Their services can be extremely valuable in planning trips and arranging and managing for the myriad of details that make the trip a success.
Two important things to remember, however, when dealing with the charter broker:
- They must clearly identify the FAA-certified operator or entity flying the trip.
- They must state whether the operator or you covers their fees.
The FAA regulates the aircraft operator but not charter brokers. The Department of Transportation has implemented some oversight of the air charter broker, but for the most part they remain self-regulated.
Regardless of who arranges your charter, make sure that your quote is all-inclusive. What are the other fees beyond the hourly charge? They can include airport landing fees, special catering, ground waiting fees, and possibly fuel cost surcharges. If the flight is outside the US, there can be added air navigation fees, customs fees, and local handling fees. One last tip: make sure that your billing for the charter trip is itemized. In the US a 7.5% Federal Excise Tax (FET) is due on the hourly charges. FET is not due on other services such as catering.
Aircraft charter can give you the benefits of Business Aviation with no long-term commitment. As with any service, you need to do a little homework and ask some questions.
Questions to Ask Charter Operators
- Who is the actual charter operator, and what is their certificate number?
- How experienced are the crewmembers & how often do they train?
- Has the charter operator had a safety audit done by an independent third-party organization? When was the audit, and can you see the report?
- Ask for a copy of the charter operator’s insurance certificate. How much liability coverage does the operator carry, and is it current?
- How frequently does your charter carrier have their aircraft painted and refurbished?
- In the event of an unexpected maintenance delay, will your charter carrier guarantee a similar replacement aircraft and honor the quoted price?
- Will the aircraft be available early for departure?
- What do the passengers need to have for security screening?
- Who do you contact regarding the trip? Are they available 24/7?