NATA Optimistic Over Sharpened Focus on Illegal Charter

 - November 28, 2018, 4:19 PM

The National Air Transportation Association is encouraged that its effort to raise the awareness of illegal charter is turning from a “ripple to a wave,” with the FAA, state officials, and operators becoming involved, said Tim Obitts, COO and general counsel for the association. Obitts pointed to the high level of interest in the issue shown during the recent Palmetto State Charter Operators Forum in Greenville, South Carolina, that involved the participation of FAA officials, state representatives, and a number of operators, along with NATA.

At that forum, intended to be the first of an annual event, FAA representatives from national headquarters and the local Flight Standards District Office detailed a multi-prong effort to tackle illegal charter, emphasizing a need to educate both the consumer and agency inspectors on what constitutes an illegal operation. The agency has been working with NATA on educational efforts, which are aimed at informing “the clueless and the careless,” while identifying “the criminal,” Obitts said.

These efforts include updating information on the FAA website to clarify some of the complexities surrounding charter, such as what is a wet lease and what is a dry lease. Dry leases are a key issue identified by operators, who complain that some organizations are using lighter aircraft to skirt certain reporting rules that apply to aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds.

The FAA is “retooling” its record-tracking capabilities in Oklahoma City, he said, so large numbers of leases involving the same aircraft can be flagged. Right now those dots aren’t connected all that well, Obitts noted, but such activity could be an indication of illegal charter.

In addition, the FAA has established a team with Department of Transportation officials to specifically address illegal charter, and Obitts said he expects the number of enforcement actions to increase. 

South Carolina officials, meanwhile, are eager to participate in this effort, he added. “They saw this effort and want to build on it,” Obitts said, noting that among other things, they are planning to work with NATA on video content that could be used in an education effort.

Obitts further sees airports as a possible pathway for educating potential passengers and aircraft owners. He discussed the possibility of hanging posters that provide information on what is legal and illegal. “A lot of people don’t realize they are participating in illegal charter,” he said. “There’s a cluelessness to what is out there.”

NATA has been pressing the agency on illegal charter for nearly two years, Obitts said, but added that after the recent South Carolina meeting, “I came out feeling hopeful.” The South Carolina meeting followed the association’s 2018 Aviation Leadership Conference, where FAA deputy associate administrator for aviation safety John Duncan told attendees that the agency was examining its enforcement tools and evaluating the possibility of increasing penalties.