When you charter a flight, your questions for the operator or broker usually focus on concerns about price, availability, catering, and transport to and from the airport: all quickly asked and answered. But you likely have other questions, such as “who is going to be doing the flying?” and “how qualified are they?” which may go unspoken because you don’t know exactly what to ask, or what the “right” answers should be. Any reputable operator or broker should be able to answer these five questions to your satisfaction – before you sign that charter agreement.
1 Is the operator audited by a third-party organization
The FAA (or its equivalent in other countries) inspects each operator to make sure it is legal, but many good operators go an extra step and require an audit from an independent auditing firm. These third parties will evaluate an operator’s maintenance and operations processes, and look at how an operator compares to industry “Best Safety Practices,” safety culture, and whether it embraces continual improvement.
It is strongly recommended that you require your charter operator to be evaluated regularly by a professional and independent audit firm, and ask them to confirm the outcome of their audit.
2 Who are the pilots and what are their qualifications?
Typically, pilot qualifications focus on experience (flight time), training (frequency, use of simulators, etc.), medical status (you want to see a “first class medical”), and their actual incident and accident history. A pilot may have 15,000 hours total time, but only 50 hours in the specific type of aircraft you are chartering.
Focus on the Pilot-in-Command time in the specific make and model, often a good indicator of appropriate experience. When was the last time the crew was in a full motion simulator? (it should be every six months). Have the pilots had any accidents or enforcement violations in the past five years?
3 Is my insurance adequate?
Every charter broker and operator should carry applicable and appropriate insurance coverages consistent with their actual role in the performance of your charter flight. Common coverages for aircraft operators include general liability and hull insurance, whereas a charter broker might carry non-owned aircraft insurance, professional liability, and more.
Generally, you engage in chartering a business aircraft at your own risk. Since limits and/or amounts of coverage are not standardized, meet with your individual or corporate risk professionals to determine insurance coverages appropriate for you. Then, ask your charter broker or operator to show you how their coverages compare to your requirements.
4 If I follow the steps above and set very high standards, I will have a safe flight, correct?
No one can guarantee safety. With any flight, there are many variables which represent “risk factors” that can be managed and mitigated, but not necessarily eliminated entirely. Today’s best safety practices for commercial operators of business aircraft around the world – now either mandated or in process – are based on a core process known as a Safety Management System (SMS) (see “Six Sigma for Corporate Aviation,” BAA, April 2014). The core of most recognized audit standards is a strong requirement for a robust SMS, another good reason for an independent audit.
5 Since I’m booking my flight through a broker, I don’t have to worry about all this, right?
Actually, you do. Ask about your broker’s due diligence process. He or she should be able to detail it sufficiently so that you are satisfied that your questions have been asked and answered. Just like operators, brokers can be independently assessed by third parties.
Before you charter, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reputable operators and brokers answer these types of questions every day. If you run into someone who refuses to give you information, that should be considered an answer unto itself. BAA
Director, Charter Evaluation and Qualification at ARGUS International, has more than 20 years’ experience in operations, safety management, auditing, and brokering. A graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he is a commercial/multi-engine pilot.