originated by:Nathan McKelvey, Nicole Willson, Flickety, Jack Herrick
As the pace of your life accelerates, it’s clear that your time is becoming too valuable to spend waiting in airports for delayed flights to activities or meetings that had to be postponed until you arrived! You begin thinking about private jet charter — a faster, easier, more customized way to travel to your destination. Luckily, flying in a private jet is one of the safest and most luxurious ways to travel. Unlike commercial airlines, private jets fly in and out of smaller suburban airports that are closer to departure and destination points. Also, typically smaller airports do not have the long lines or delays passengers have come to expect at any of today’s large urban airports.
1 Identify the Right Charter Operator. Yes, one could check the local yellow pages or a favorite search engine to locate charter companies. However, there won’t be any information about the quality of individual companies there, other than what is written in advertisements created by the companies themselves. Use the web to look for online directories of FAA authorized charter operators, their locations, and the various aircraft they offer. There are a number of charter brokers who appear to have many aircraft but in reality are serving in a capacity similar to a travel agent. Charter brokers are not FAA authorized and do not have any aircraft under their control. If you like the idea of using a travel agent keep in mind a quality FAA authorized operator can access a jet anywhere in the world just like a broker. Now that you have a list of operators, their aircraft, and phone numbers you need to ask a few basic questions.
2 Validate the Charter Company. The next step is verifying the charter company’s advertising claims through official documentation. In order to simplify this complicated task, one can break down the process into three categories: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documentation, insurance and third-party audits.
- FAA Documentation – Each charter company must have a valid Part 135 air taxi certificate which authorizes it to fly for hire. Obtaining a Part 135 certificate requires the charter company to adhere to FAA guidelines and is strictly enforced by the FAA. Ask for a copy of their “Air Carrier Certificate” which is the official document granted by the FAA. If a charter company does not have an air carrier certificate, they are not authorizied by the FAA to conduct charter operations.
- Insurance – Often overlooked, insurance can provide a great deal of information about a charter company. Typical limits for a charter company are $50M-$100m for a small jet (such as a Cessna Citation, Lear 40 or Hawker 400XP), $100M for a mid-sized jet (such as a Hawker 800XP, Lear 60 or Citation XL) and $100M-$500M for a large jet (such as a Challenger, Gulfstream or Falcon). Often, these higher insurance limits require an audit by the insurance company to assure that the pilots and mechanics have the appropriate experience to operate a safe flight. Also, another free service most operators will offer is for the passenger to be “named additional insured” on the policy. This option is really a personal decision. It should be considered if the passenger flies private charter on an ongoing, regular basis.
- Third Party Audits – There are several companies that specialize in auditing charter companies. The industry’s most used services are Aviation Research Group (ARG/US) or Wyvern. ARG/US & Wyvern compile several databases, including FAA, Department of Transportation (DOT) and one on aircraft transactions, to determine the safety records of the operator, its pilots and its aircraft. In addition, these companies will perform on-site audits on safety procedures, aircraft log books and additional documentation. The only way to verify that an operator has been audited by one of these organizations is to contact ARG/US or Wyvern directly.
3 Visit the Company: This may not always be possible, but you will learn a tremendous amount of information about a company by meeting their people, seeing their facitly, and touring a few aircraft. Viewing people and facilities will tell you a lot about the quality of aircraft and level of service you can expect from the charter company.
4 Look for Good Customer Service: Ideally, there should be a single person responsible for your trip. Also, live help should be available around the clock for if you must change your plans, make a special request, or ask a question. You will get a great sense of their level of service by how you are treated on the phone. Does the agent take time with you, ask questions to ensure they understand what is important to you, are they polite, and most importantly, are they responsive.
5 Select an Aircraft: Often, a charter company will provide pictures of an aircraft under consideration for a trip. Be warned, however, that pictures are deceiving and may not be current. The only way absolutely ensure the status of an aircraft is to view it personally.Also, because insurance levels can change at any time and vary by aircraft within the same fleet, it is important to ask for a copy of the insurance policy before each and every flight.
6 Check up on your Pilot: Find out what the provider’s standards are for minimum pilot hours. Different jet types require different pilot hours. Once you have chosen an aircraft, verify that the assigned pilot has the required number of pilot hours on that type of craft. Generally, each captain should have at least 5000 total flight hours and 300 hours in the specific aircraft type. Ask how often the pilots attend recurrent training in a full-motion simulator. Once every six months is considered ideal. Anything less, the pilot may not be as fesh as possible on the latest procedures.
7 Find Out How Much it Will Cost: As the details of your needs become more specific, you should be able to get a clear quote, not a vague estimate that leaves room for surprises on the final invoice. Any always ask for a hard quote. Yes, ceratain things such as catering, ground transporation, and flight phone usuage are not known before the flgiht, but everything else should be a firm quote so you are not suprised by the final billing.