The Air Charter Association (ACA) is stepping up its educational campaign and building on its partnerships to combat illegal charter. Earlier this year, ACA (Booth E51) hosted its first “Fly Legal Day” on the anniversary of the Jan. 21, 2019, crash of an illegally chartered aircraft that killed Argentinian professional soccer player Emiliano Sala—timed to underscore the gravity of the issue.
This was the first of what ACA hopes will be an annual event as the association works to keep the issue in the forefront, said the organization’s CEO, Glenn Hogben. “We are putting a continual effort on [this] and hopefully keeping awareness high and people educated about the dangers and risks of it.”
Hogben noted he speaks regularly at events about illegal charter operations and is often in dialog with his counterparts at other associations and regulators about the problem. “We’re all working together to make sure that this is a reasonably high profile on people’s agendas.”
To that end, ACA joined with 10 other organizations in late 2020 to launch the Air Charter Safety Alliance to coordinate global efforts to fight illegal charter. The alliance, now at 13 members, involves participation from organizations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. “We wanted to get the global coverage,” Hogben said, explaining the goal is to standardize the response to illegal charter.
The alliance is collaborating on addressing the issues through seven different aspects: regulators, insurers, operators, charter brokers, pilots, passengers, and aircraft owners.
From the regulator standpoint, the associations are pushing to tighten up rules surrounding what constitutes legal charter, Hogben said, noting many are vague. “That’s a long-term project that’s going to be years to achieve. There is a notable difference between different authorities and the way the regulations are written.”
Insurers also are a critical piece in the battle against illegal charters because they are the ones that must deal with what happens if something goes wrong, Hogben said, noting the industry is paying close attention to steps insurers take in cases of illegal charters. “We want to make sure they’re all very aware that this practice is happening and the consequences of it.”
As for the operators, “if they are taking any form of reward for the flying—accept any payments—then they've got to make sure that it's an AOC-covered aircraft on the commercial license. “
Charter brokers also must ensure they complete due diligence and check the documentation, he added, saying they are the most likely to be aware of the status of a legal flight. Meanwhile, pilots are sometimes less aware that a flight might not be legal, he said. “They don’t really realize the implications,” he said. “We want to make sure they’re very clear on what they should and shouldn’t be doing.”
Passengers are among those least aware, Hogben maintained. “They may be completely oblivious to the fact that the operation they’re doing is illegal.” But if they do find that out later, then they should realize they've taken “a huge risk.” Aircraft owners must know it is ultimately their responsibility to know what is going on with their aircraft, he further said.
“It’s just trying to make sure that they're aware of how that can happen and how they can avoid any situations where that does happen.”
With the categories identified, Hogben said the alliance is developing a website that would serve as a single point of contact globally. The website would detail those categories and advise on how to watch out for and address illegal activity.
Further, the website would have a reporting function for those who come across illegal charter. He was unsure how long website development would take but said, “We're hopeful that will be completed this year.”
In the interim, Hogben believes the educational campaigns are “starting to have an impact. We know that more people are becoming familiar with what is allowed.”
From an enforcement standpoint, the industry is seeing fines being assessed, particularly in the U.S., and the beginning of prosecutions, such as in the Sala case. Dave Henderson, who set up the fatal Sala flight, was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the operation. “That's set quite a precedent,” he said, but one that the business aviation community welcomed.