There’s no doubt that using private aircraft for both business and personal travel offers many benefits, including flexibility, security, and efficiency, among others. However, with a myriad of choices in the market, it can be difficult to make the safest yet most cost-effective choice.
While there are a number of knowledgeable sources available to assist with arranging a charter, it pays to learn the basics in order to ensure that the aircraft you are flying on is safe and that the company operating it is reputable. Though the charter industry is regulated worldwide by various governmental agencies such as the FAA in the United States and EASA in Europe, such regulation does not necessarily ensure that the aircraft and operator meet the highest safety standards, but rather that they meet the minimum acceptable standard enforced by each respective agency. Thus, as with many other products and services, the concept of caveat emptor applies – let the buyer beware.
Private jet charter aircraft are available worldwide from a large number of operators of all types and sizes, and there are a number of ways to find just the right plane for your trip. The most common method involves hiring a jet charter broker to do the work for you. For around a 10 per cent commission, the broker will gather all of your requirements and go out into the market to find you the best option that fits your budget. Brokers are often worth the additional cost because they know the best places to find the right aircraft based on your requirements. However, be sure to ask what commission rate you are being charged prior to doing business to prevent being overcharged.
Whether using a broker or performing the search yourself, make sure that any potential operator you are considering has had no incidents or accidents and holds at least some industry safety rating, such as ISBAO I,II or III, ARGUS Gold or Platinum or Wyvern Wingman. In the United States, ARGUS and Wyvern are popular ratings, while in Europe and other parts of the world ISBAO is a more popular standard. It is also important to check if the operator has had any violations, as multiple infractions can be a warning sign that safety is not a priority.
Further, if using a broker, make sure they disclose the name of the operator so that you can check safety ratings and the operating record for yourself. Although most brokers are experienced professionals who only work with quality operators, there are some that will select the least expensive operator regardless of quality in order to make extra money. Typically every extra dollar they can save below the quoted price ends up in their pocket, not yours.
A key warning sign is if they are unwilling to share the name of the operator with you up front. Many times, a trip will be shopped even after an aircraft is initially secured to see if a cheaper option becomes available that can make the broker more money. As such, you may not know who the operator is until you board the aircraft, or worse, you may think that you are using one operator when it fact it is a completely different company. No matter how good the deal you are offered may seem, always insist on knowing the operator in writing BEFORE you commit to the trip.
If you’re going it alone, there are a number of companies that aggregate charter operator information such as Avinode, Fly Victor, Air Charter Guide, Stellar and Jet Smarter, among others. While Avinode is more focused on providing a business to business portal for charter brokers, the others are designed specifically for the end client, and most offer an iPhone or Android phone application as well. Jet Smarter, in addition to offering charter search, also offers a membership based service that provides its members with discounted charter rates worldwide, instant booking, free empty legs and free jet shuttle seats in select markets.
Regardless of whether you use a broker or go it alone, the topic of empty legs and one ways comes up often. Though one way deals can often abound, timing and routing are important. One ways are far more prevalent between high demand city pairs, so if your travels take you to or from an out of the way destination, you may find yourself paying higher rates to cover aircraft repositioning or even a return to base. Also, if your trip is under two hours you may find yourself paying a minimum hourly fee, which is usually equal to two hours of flight time. Not all operators require this, but it is the norm across most of the market. Finally, the timing of your trip is also important. If you are planning to fly during peak times, which usually revolve around holidays and major events, it pays to be flexible and realize that you may have to pay round trip pricing to get to your destination due to high demand.
Beyond Internet sites and smart phone apps there are a number of companies offering jet cards that allow users to purchase a fixed number of hours in advance at a discounted rate. Although a jet card can be a great way to save money, it pays to carefully review the basic agreement terms, including where your money will be kept, what happens if you don’t use all of the hours before the card expires and what restrictions exist, such as blackout dates, use of multiple aircraft and guaranteed availability. A reputable company will clearly define all of these terms, and any company that takes your money on account should have a separate escrow account to hold any unused funds. Beware of companies that cannot clearly demonstrate this or who tell you that they do not use such an account, as that is a very strong indicator that you could lose your investment.
Other things to check include how long the company has been in business, how long it has been offering jet cards and its current financial standing. Finally, referrals and reviews are a must to avoid potential future problems. Reviews can typically be found online quite easily, and any reputable company should provide multiple client referrals. Beyond company specific information, it’s also important to also have the company provide a detailed overview of their charter operator selection parameters. As before, safety ratings, incidents/accidents/violations, operator transparency and other related information is key to selecting the right jet card provider.
Beyond jet cards lies the world of membership services and fractional providers. Membership service companies such as Wheels Up or Jet Smarter are fairly new to the market, and they offer regional, national and international service for a monthly or annual fee. The advantages of such membership can include discounted rates, fixed pricing, guaranteed availability within a certain window of time and other benefits. As each service is fairly unique, and new services are being created each year, it can make sense to employ a qualified aviation consultant to assist you with comparing such services and making the best choice.
Fractional operators have been around for over twenty years and offer buyers the opportunity to own a fraction of an aircraft, from 1/16 to the whole plane. Owners are able to take depreciation on their respective share of the aircraft and pay a fixed monthly management fee as well as a fixed hourly rate that is somewhere close to the actual hourly operating cost. The fractional company handles all of the heavy lifting and provides guaranteed availability within a specific time frame for a fixed number of annual hours that is dependent on the size of the share purchased. Though they are very convenient, safe and offer great flexibility, as well as financial benefits such as depreciation, they come at a price. Typically shares are sold at full retail price and purchased back at the end of the term at wholesale pricing, making them very expensive compared to actual market prices. However, such cost comes with a level of convenience that makes it an attractive option for those that
want to make regular air travel as simple and consistent as possible.
No matter which option you ultimately choose for your private air travel needs, asking the right questions and verifying the facts before you climb in to the cabin can save you a great deal of hassle, money and even possibly your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeffrey Reis is a 25-year veteran of the aviation industry and Managing Director for Executive Air Services (www.eascharter.com), a 23-year-old ARGUS Platinum/ISBAO II/FAA SMS Level 1 worldwide jet management and charter company offering dedicated private jet management services, sales and on demand charter with a fleet ranging from light jets such as the Hawker 400XP to ultra-heavy aircraft such as the Gulfstream 550 and Global Express.
Jeffrey may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 786.484.0063.