Going for the Brokers
The panel discussion on brokers addressed the concern that anyone with a laptop computer and a cellphone could “broker” travel on chartered business jets. Fred Gevalt, founder of The Air Charter Guide, said a good start would be to register charter brokers with the U.S. Department of Transportation, a safeguard that he asserted would eliminate 60 percent of the Internet dabblers.
He further suggested that NATA member brokers receive favorable consideration from the DOT, though any exemptions from other requirements should not include deceptive practices.
The panel also addressed ambiguities involving a charter operator using another operator as backup. FAA executive Dayton Lehman compared such charter referrals to airline code-shares, asserting that a passenger who books a flight with one charter operator deserves to know well in advance if another operator will be flying the flight. He said, “A Part 135 operator should tell the customer when he’s acting as a broker. If you don’t operate the metal, customers need to be told.”
An NATA member in the audience said that it is not always possible to notify the customer, and time is critical. Lehman responded by asking if Part 135 operations were a fungible commodity. “Are you saying you’re all the same?” he asked.
Several charter operators at the forum addressed the differences between the airline sector, which is bound by disclosure regulations in code-sharing, and charter. They spoke of gentlemen’s agreements among operators who would cover each other’s overflow flights seamlessly. One said, “We agree that our crews are not to pass out brochures or business cards to our competitor’s customers.” They feared that mandating disclosure of such flights would compromise the marketing balance.
Some of the concerned parties expressed relief when Lehman said that, although it was on the agenda for the Part 135 rewrite committee, the issue was “not on the front burner” at the DOT. One listener quipped privately that if history holds, even those issues that are on the front burner at the DOT take several years to resolve.