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You Vet Your Life

2020 Super Bowl Miami

You’ll be entertaining a few select clients at the Super Bowl at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on February 2. And if your own aircraft is reserved by another executive, you’ll be flying charter. What will be your first priority in selecting and vetting an operator? Price? Aircraft make and model? Schedule convenience?

Or safety?

Almost 900 turbine aircraft charter operators in the U.S., flying almost 6,300 aircraft, plus thousands of non-operating brokers, all claim to offer “the right aircraft at the best price.” So your flight department will use industry vetting tools like Argus, Wyvern, and the Air Charter Safety Foundation to narrow the field of charter brokers and operators based first on safety ratings, and then on aircraft availability. 

Then, and only then, will they compare prices.

While a faceless app can compare prices, no online algorithm can evaluate and compare a company’s culture and commitment to safety with that of other operators. It’s “buyer beware” when an app’s first message is “price and simplicity” rather than “safety and service.”

Reputable charter operators and broker companies are headed by individuals with a long history of commitment to aviation safety and service. You’ll find the credentials of the senior management listed on their websites. 

But it seems every week another faceless app joins the fray, seeking to make a profit off of the unknowing charter user. Newcomer Blackbird, a Silicon Valley startup, delegated shopping to the charter user, who chose an aircraft make/model from one online list, and the flight crew from a separate list. This “one from Column A and one from Column B” approach appeared to be intended to skirt the FAR Part 135 governing commercial charter operations – as well as the IRS requirement that excise tax be paid on commercial air travel. 

But the FAA wasn’t buying it, according to the December 17 letter from Naomi Tsuda, the FAA’s Assistant Chief Counsel. The FAA opined that the pilots so listed “are holding out and thus are engaged in common carriage” according to previously FAA issued determinations. Consequently, Blackbird had to suspend that part of their air travel offerings, restricting itself to simple online charter brokering.

Sure, using a charter app is fast and easy. You just key in where you want to go and when, and the tracking software does the rest. But why would you risk using an invisible broker, especially when your safety – and your wallet – depend on reliable charter? 

In our cover story, “Global Warning,” David Norton and Ryan Waguespack tell you why you may be vulnerable, including the very real safety and financial risks to you of illegal charter.

Can your specific travel requirements and your safety be reduced to an algorithm on an app? Aren’t you worth more than that? BAA

Publisher of Business Aviation Advisor, has nearly 50 years in business aviation including executive positions at aircraft management/charter and ground services companies. He is a past director of the NATA and Corporate Angel Network.


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