“It is not just about breaking the law. It is about what happens if something goes wrong?” says David MacDonald, Director of Sales – Private Jets at Air Partner. He is talking about illegal charter flights – often referred to as grey charter – where aircraft that have not been approved for paying passengers are used for charter.
Illegal aircraft charter is comparative to illegal taxis or minicabs. Just as with an illegal taxi you are not necessarily insured and the pilot may not be qualified to the standards of a professional. And like illegal taxis, illegal charter harms the industry by drawing business away from legitimate operators.
“The reason the rules for a private aircraft are more relaxed is because you are the owner, but if you hire the aircraft, you do not have any control,” says MacDonald. “With a licensed airline, the aircraft will have an operations manual, they have to carry surplus fuel and the crew will have strict regulations over how many hours they can fly.”
“When you hire an unlicensed aircraft you are increasing the probability that something will go wrong, as well as increasing your own liability,” he adds.
MacDonald believes that users of grey charter flights can be categorised into two types: there are those who break the rules for friends – getting them to contribute towards fuel or providing other benefits like paying for hotel rooms – and there are those who are unwittingly paying for it. It is not what MacDonald describes as “mates rates” which troubles him, but the latter type of passenger.
With many illegal operators now working behind slick-looking websites, brochures and advertising budgets, MacDonald has seen an increasing number of buyers duped into buying black market flights. “I have even seen professional corporates unknowingly purchase illegal charter,” he says. “I saw the blood drain from their face after I told them.”
“I think the key thing is education,” says MacDonald. “Do not be embarrassed to ask the basic questions when hiring an aircraft. Ask for an operating certificate, ask if the aircraft is licensed and ask what jurisdiction it is registered. “The guys who will find that question difficult are the guys who are breaking the rules.”