"Illegal air charter operations pose a serious safety hazard to the traveling public, and the FAA works aggressively to identify and shut down rogue operators,” proclaimed the agency in one of several new guidance documents released yesterday intended for charter operators, brokers and passengers. “Today, booking a charter flight can be as easy as tapping a few buttons on your mobile device. But that doesn’t mean the flight is legal or safe.”
The FAA said it has taken a number of actions to ensure FAA aviation inspectors are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to investigate illegal charter operations. “The agency formed a Special Emphasis Investigations Team to investigate complex cases; partners with the NATA’s Air Charter Safety Foundation to help identify possible illegal operations; and continues to collaborate with other industry trade associations to educate pilots and operators to ensure they understand all of the rules that apply to charter operations.”
Also, the FAA receives letters from operators and brokers requesting clarification of the rules. The agency’s reply to one such letter serves to highlight some of the most common problems. The response is to a company called Blackbird Air that created a web-based application that connects passengers with pilots. Because the company was misinterpreting and possibly violating FARs, the letter emphasizes and details the agency’s requirements for pilots who are paid to fly passengers.
Essentially, the agency’s main point states “that pilots who are paid to fly passengers generally can’t just hold the required commercial or airline transport pilot certificate, they also must be employed by the company operating the flight, which must hold a certificate issued under FAR Part 119 [certification of commercial operators]. Or the pilots must themselves hold a Part 119 certificate.” Additionally, there is a detailed explanation of the legal and practical term known as “holding out,” or a willingness to provide services.
The new guidance materials include a list of “red flag” items that indicate a company may not be a legitimate operator: If the company provides the aircraft and at least one crewmember, yet attempts to transfer operational control to a consumer via any document; failure to charge customers the Federal Excise Tax (legitimate operators have to charge this); if the price is “too good to be true, it probably is”; no safety briefing or passenger briefing cards; any evasiveness to questions or concerns (legitimate operators should be transparent and helpful); if the pilot or someone associated with the company coaches passengers on what to say or do if an FAA aviation inspector meets the aircraft at its destination.