The indisputable health and safety benefits of business jet travel have recently attracted an increasing number of new users. Unfortunately, these newcomers are particularly vulnerable to the threat of online fraud and illegal charter operations, often referred to as the “grey market.”
Globally, the number of fake business aviation charter websites is growing. They promote aircraft using names, registrations, and contract templates from sites belonging to legitimate brokers and charter operators – and even text and images stolen directly from them.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for inexperienced bizav users to see what looks like a valid website, and simply trust the unseen and unknown people behind that site. Without experience navigating the charter world, they have no way to validate a service provider’s claims, or even know the right questions to ask.
Careful Checks Essential
New entrants to bizav certainly may be at risk, but they are not alone. Experienced business jet owners and users like you are threatened too. As lockdown restrictions ease and the rise in the demand for charter continues, more people are eager to travel as soon as possible. And in their hurry, they may book with unfamiliar brokers or operators whose websites make credible-sounding claims, and then fail to do proper due diligence against fraud, even neglecting to verify bank details on the telephone before making new payment transfers.
Even if your aircraft is on an Airline Certificate or Air Operator Certificate (“AOC,” the approval granted by its national aviation authority to use aircraft for commercial purposes), this could still put your charter revenue at risk – if you unknowingly accept a trip from a dishonest broker who then fails to forward payment, you’ve not only lost the revenue, you have to cover the cost to perform the trip.
And if you’re not on a certificate, and do opt to accept flights for pay, then you are vulnerable to federal regulatory violations and significant fines and penalties.
The Air Charter Association works collaboratively with other aviation associations such as EBAA and NATA to provide correct and consistent guidance to all business jet users. Using an accredited Air Charter Association member to book and operate your charter flight helps ensure that you’ll be working with a professional and experienced company which upholds the association’s highest standards and Code of Ethics.
When in doubt, use your instincts, contact an independent body for advice, and confirm that the proposed operator of the flight holds an AOC.
Caught off guard, everyone is at risk from the complex manipulations of online fraud and illegal charter. This is a global issue – as our colleagues in the USA at NATA say, illegal charter is “a serious threat” but “often difficult to identify due to the use of deceptive and convoluted agreements.”
Critically, business jet users must understand that a flight becomes a commercial flight as soon as money is exchanged, and commercial flights legally must meet certain requirements (such as holding Federal Aviation Regulation Part 135 certification in the US).
Your safety – and your aircraft’s – may be at risk. Unlike legitimate businesses, illegal charter operators might not limit the hours their pilots are on duty without a rest every day. Fatigue leads to errors – some fatal. So can the failure of pilots to attend recurrent flight training, which happens all too often, whereas illicit brokers will use non-certificated and unregulated aircraft.
Passenger vigilance is critical, and owners like you can help fight these unsafe operations by working with members of The Air Charter Association and its affiliates.
Throughout the pandemic, the business aviation industry has rightly earned a fine reputation for providing citizens with a lifeline for medical and other humanitarian missions. Illegal charter and online fraud must not be allowed to taint honest operators and users like you. BAA
Glenn Hogben, Chief Executive, The Air Charter Association, has 17+ years’ experience in aircraft charter, leasing and management. He has worked on a variety of leasing and air charter projects across the global aviation industry.