The British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) is calling for legal changes to strengthen deterrents for illegal charter and boost enforcement. “Fines are pointless and they are not being enforced,” aviation attorney and BBGA chair Aoife O’Sullivan said today at the Air Charter Expo conference at Biggin Hill Airport. “We need a change in the law. The [flight] cost-sharing concept is being openly flouted and we need a change to the [UK] Air Navigation Order to put a stop to this.”
Dave Edwards, CEO of the Air Charter Association, told conference attendees that between 2005 and 2016 there were only 14 successful illegal charter prosecutions and fines for all of these total just £14,950 ($19,000). “That’s barely 10 weeks’ pay for a training captain,” he complained. "One person was prosecuted for seven offences over this period, resulting in just £6,500 in fines. That's clearly not a deterrent."
Conference panelists—including European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) chief operations officer Robert Baltus and Ryan Waguespack, the v-p of aircraft management, charter services, and MROs with the U.S. National Air Transportation Association—acknowledged that regulatory agencies generally have inadequate resources to police illegal charter. They indicated that abuses are increasing, partly facilitated by online charter platforms and abuses of dry-lease arrangements.
According to O’Sullivan, the industry should focus efforts on better informing charter end users of the liabilities they could face in the event of an accident. “Many end users just don’t know what they are getting themselves into; when they take on a dry-use aircraft they are taking [legal] control of it,” she said. “Under UK law, this could result in a corporate manslaughter criminal prosecution [in the event of a fatal accident]."
James Moreton from insurance broker Hayward Aviation added that end users also need to be more aware that illegal charters can invalidate insurance coverage. He acknowledged that insurance companies could do more to raise awareness about the resulting liability issues.
Waguespack pointed out that fines for illegal charter are generally higher in the U.S., giving the example of a pending $17 million penalty against an operator in South Carolina. However, he added that fines often get reduced on appeal and that FAA struggles to cover enforcement costs and that "educating inspectors" on the importance of this work is "challenging." However, he also indicated that the Department of Transportation is taking a tougher approach to revoking licenses from pilots involved in illegal flights.
Panelists advocated reporting illegal charter operators to tax authorities on the grounds that fines for non-payment of taxes could be far more punitive. They also argued that authorities could be urged to target pilots involved in illegal charter with a more meaningful threat to revoke licenses.
EBAA is in the process of setting up a platform to make it easier for legitimate businesses to report cases of illegal charter. Meanwhile, the UK industry is awaiting the final Air Accident Investigation Branch report into the Jan. 21, 2019, fatal crash of a Piper Malibu in which the pilot and professional soccer player Emiliano Sala were killed. This prompted the Air Charter Association to call for “urgent action” on illegal charter based on the findings of the preliminary report into the accident.