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Illegal Jet Charters – What You Need To Know

In May of 2017, two pilots died when their aircraft crashed on their approach to Teterboro Airport. Upon investigation, it was determined that the two pilots were qualified to operate Part 135 flights – which means they could have legally had passengers aboard – but didn’t maintain the airport safety records or follow the standards set in place by the FAA. There were a number of other disconcerting findings in the NTBS report as well. Though this accident was extremely unfortunate, it’s very fortunate that there were no passengers on board at the time of the crash. Probably the most concerning fact about this accident is that this charter isn’t deemed illegal. It just didn’t meet the necessary safety requirements.

However, the issue of illegal jet charters is one of the most difficult for regulators to address, and this gives rise to a number of operators and brokers who conduct or arrange illegal flights. In basic terms, the FAA has two sets of rules that pertain to private jet charter, and it’s really important to know the difference between the two before booking a private jet charter.

Part 91 vs. Part 135

FAA Part 91 is a set of basic rules that govern any general aviation flight, and almost every pilot flying today must adhere to these rules – from those in command of the most advanced jets to individuals flying a single-prop Cessna. Licensed jet charters however must fly under Part 135, which features more strict maintenance programs and recordkeeping, safety checks, advanced pilot training and other requirements. These ‘rules’ are actually federal laws, which specify in great detail the requirements for equipment in the airplane and those that operate it – the pilots, attendants and maintenance personnel. As you can probably guess, flying under proper FAA regulations also has costs. Thus the best way for a broker to slash costs is to simply ignore the regulations and fly illegal charters.

What does this mean for jet charter consumers?

  • Unlicensed carriers are not checked by regulators, so there are no minimum standards for pilot experience. Those boarding a Part 91 charter flight have no assurances of their pilot’s expertise.
  • Maintenance records are also not checked, nor are flight logs, so the recurrent maintenance of the aircraft is in question.
  • These operators are flying illegally, so it’s impossible for them to obtain liability insurance to provide coverage to their clients in the event of an emergency.

Many individual aircraft owners are unknowing accomplices to these unscrupulous brokers and operators of illegal jet charters, since most are not experts in FAA regulations. Because there are only civil penalties and not criminal ones for flying illegally, the FAA also has limited leverage to stop these flights.

With the recent Teterboro accident and the death of Emeliana Sala in early 2019, there has been a huge push to pass new legislation to combat both unsafe and illegal flying. This means that brokers who operate unsafe and illegal jet charters can compete as “equals” with highly regulated and licensed charters – and the flying public often doesn’t know the difference.

How can you protect yourself from illegal and possibly unsafe charter flights?

  • Always use a jet charter agent who you know and trust. Brokers that pop up overnight and are willing to sacrifice your safety for a quick dollar aren’t interested in building a long-term business, or establishing a positive business reputation.
  • Ask for a Wyvern or ARGUS report for your flight. These reports provide operational history, maintenance audits and pilot experience. Observe if your plane looks clean and well-kept.
  • Request a copy of the aircraft operator’s Part 135 certification, and insurance certificate from your charter agent. If they cannot provide these documents, there’s a good chance the jet charter is illegal.

Without taking these steps, it is often impossible to know if you’re using illegal jet charters. Then the primary question to ask yourself is, “Am I comfortable doing business with a company that isn’t upfront and honest with me from the very start?” The operators we choose to include in our Approved Vendor Program adhere to the most stringent standards in the industry, and employ only the most experienced pilots.

At Stratos Jets, we pride ourselves on offering our clients as much information as we can. We know that an educated client will make more informed buying decisions. This means we’ll always provide the safest and most appropriate aircraft every time, while striving to provide the best prices available. 

For more information on jet charter safety, read our post: Five Things You Should Know About Air Charter Safety.

Looking for a reputable private broker that offers extraordinary service and uncompromising safety? Stratos Jets charters safety-audited aircraft in various sizes and styles to suit your precise needs. Our agents are available 24/7—(888) 593-9066 (toll free) or request a quote online.

Are you ready to book your best charter flight yet?

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