Flight Time failure stiffs charter ops

 - April 23, 2008, 7:21 AM

As the financial community has been shaken by the downfall of Enron and Worldcom, so has the aviation charter industry been rattled by the demise of one of its stalwart brokerage firms. When online charter broker Flight Time surprised the industry by closing its portal on June 28 and declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the company apparently left some aircraft charter operators out of the money. Flight Time started as a charter broker in 1985 and later added online charter reservations.

Business Jet Services, the charter arm of FBO Business Jet Center at Dallas Love Field (DAL), received the surprise bankruptcy announcement and was told by its legal staff that there was probably little chance it could recover the money owed by Flight Time for flights already flown. Ashley Vacca, Business Jet Services flight operations and marketing manager, said her division took a double hit, since Flight Time had negotiated lower hourly charter rates based on a guarantee of 300 hr of charter business. Not only did Flight Time not make the 300 hr, but $55,000 in charter billing was unpaid at the time of the bankruptcy filing. Vacca said the incident has shaken Business Jet’s confidence in the entire charter-broker industry–particularly online brokers. She said, “It’s a disincentive for us to negotiate discounts or other arrangements if a well-respected, high-profile company like Flight Time can disappear like this without notice.”

Andrew Richmond, chief operating officer of TWC Aviation in Burbank, Calif., told AIN his company was left with about $10,000 unpaid and no recourse for recovering the money. He claimed that among the several fellow charter aircraft firms he had spoken with concerning Flight Time, he had toted up close to $500,000 worth of charter bills that Flight Time did not pay before closing its doors on June 28.

Richmond said he learned the news about Flight Time’s demise from San Francisco Giants left fielder and batting champion Barry Bonds–a Flight Time customer. Richmond said, “That’s how we got the news; from Barry Bonds. Flight Time called him hours before they closed, because he had a trip scheduled with us. They told him they were going out of business and that he should contact us directly to confirm and rebook the trip.”

Richmond didn’t know whether or not Bonds was one of Flight Time’s “Freedom Plan” customers. Under the plan, passengers would prepay Flight Time for a fixed number of flight hours, and in return for the investment, would not be charged for deadhead legs. Also, all Freedom Plan customers were assured they would fly only with charter operators that had been audited and approved by Wyvern Aviation Consulting.

A spokesman for Wyvern of Palmyra, N.J., which had been acquired by Flight Time in 2000, said the unexpected demise of the parent company will have no adverse affect on Wyvern’s future. Wyvern has been conducting safety and security audits of air-taxi operators since 1991, publishing the results in the Wyvern Report. The spokesman attributed the fate of Flight Time to the slow economy.

At press time, former Flight Time officials had not returned AIN’s telephone calls.