The crash of a U.S.-registered Learjet in Mexico last month raised operational control issues because Mexican officials initially indicated that the aircraft was conducting a Part 135 trip at the time of the accident. The pilot-in-command’s U.S. pilot certificate specifically restricted him from such operations. However, Starwood Management, the aircraft’s owner, claimed the aircraft was operating legally under Part 91 rules.
Bryan Burns, president of the Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF), said such accidents often raise anxiety levels for passengers scheduling trips, especially people new to chartering airplanes. Burns says due diligence before booking is critical to ensuring a safe trip. “The ACSF suggests customers ask to see a copy of the charter operator’s FAA air carrier operator certificate, as well as a copy of its insurance documents,” he said. “You should see a policy that covers absolutely everything with a minimum of $10 million of [insurance] coverage. Ask how often crews are trained and where, as well as their recency of experience in the aircraft you’ll fly on. Ask if maintenance is conducted in-house or is sub-contracted. Ask if they use fully FAA certified technicians for all work.”
ACSF also recommends charter customers ask for the results of a recent safety audit. The ACSF–a not-for-profit group–and a number of private companies conduct them. Burns also warned consumers to be careful in selecting charter brokers to book flights, since, unlike operators, brokers are not subject to regulation.