Tips When Buying Jets for Part 135 Charter Ops, Pt 1

Owners wanting to have their managed aircraft operated on revenue-earning charter flights will quickly learn that the best equipment and furnishings for private flights isn’t always ideal for charter customers. Chris Kjelgaard asks the experts for tips in this three-part series…

Chris Kjelgaard  |  24th January 2022
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    Chris Kjelgaard
    Chris Kjelgaard

    Chris Kjelgaard has been an aviation journalist for more than 40 years and has written on multiple topics...

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    Cessna Citation private jet parked on wet airport ramp

    Those who buy business aircraft purely for their own private and business use often become immensely proud of their aircraft, striving to outfit their jets with the very latest in flight-deck and cabin equipment. In many cases such owners customize the furnishings and fittings to suit their individual style and needs - but not necessarily those of charter customers...

    While pride in one’s aircraft and the wish to make it a tangible expression of one’s individuality are very natural emotions, they’re unlikely to be helpful for owners contemplating having their managed aircraft operated on charter flights in order to help offset operating costs.

    The ideal attributes for an aircraft made available for charter hire may be substantially different from those which make it ideal from the owner’s personal viewpoint.

    The qualities which make an aircraft strongly marketable for charter use start with the aircraft type, its age, its external paint, and its seating configuration.

    During the Covid-19 pandemic, many are chartering business aircraft for the first time. While they might not know their preferences fully the first time they book and fly, the technologically-savvy customers of today quickly come to know exactly what they want a chartered aircraft to offer, according to Kevin Kliethermes, Director of Sales for Flying Colours Corporation.

    To such customers, aircraft type and age “does [matter] to a certain extent,” he says. This is because “there are quite a few new entrants” offering charters in today’s very strong market, “and if the aircraft looks old and dated, customers may have a different expectation in terms of safety”.

    Owners “are better off” when the aircraft they make available for charters are “cleaner and newer-looking, because customers tend to choose their aircraft from pictures” (on charter operators’ websites or in printed charter guides).

    Additionally, it is often best for business aircraft — particularly jets — used for charters to have neutral external color schemes, says Eric Zipkin, Founder and President of Oxford, Connecticut-based scheduled and charter operator Tradewind Aviation.

    “In the bizjet world, a lot of business goes through brokers, and they want a white-label [generic-looking] aircraft,” he says.

    Operating Economics and Seat Capacity

    Next, says Zipkin, “You really need to talk about the [operating] economics” of the aircraft. “Some aircraft are better than others — for instance, the Cessna Citation CJ3 versus the Citation Bravo or Bombardier Learjet.”

    Better operating economics can make all the difference to owners who want to make their aircraft available for charter: “The margin the owner makes per hour is sufficient to make it worth their while to charter” the aircraft out, he explains.

    “Typically, low direct operating cost argues for newer, higher-capital cost aircraft — aircraft which have better fuel burn and are robustly supported” (by the OEM).

    Tradewind Aviation is best known for its’ 18-strong scheduled and charter fleet of gunmetal gray-liveried Pilatus PC-12 turboprops, and its robust scheduled and charter route networks in the Northeast US, and in the Caribbean, operating from a busy base at San Juan. But Tradewind also operates US domestic and US-Caribbean charter flights with three Citation CJ3 Light Jets it manages for their owners.

    “In today’s market we’re seeing a lot of new customers to the [charter] industry,” Zipkin notes. “They’re starting with Turboprops and Light Jets. They’re a very hot commodity right now.”

    Passenger-seat capacity is an important consideration when buying, or outfitting aircraft for charter work, says Zipkin. Regarding the particular type of aircraft, “you want to default to a higher cabin capacity,” he suggests. “You can always sell an eight-seat aircraft to six passengers [for a charter], but you can’t sell a six-seat aircraft to eight passengers.

    “Casting the net wider is going to create greater appeal in the charter market.”

    However, Zipkin recommends that would-be aircraft owners always take advice on aircraft selection from the Part 135 operators they have chosen to manage their aircraft. “It’s best to work closely with the Part 135 operator you will use,” he says. “They will be able to advise you as to what is the most suitable aircraft.”

    Tips on the Avionics

    Many owners of privately operated business aircraft want to install the latest avionics suites in their aircraft, on occasion replacing equipment items which are standard fit for the flight deck with newer, more highly functional aftermarket equipment.

    Doing so is not generally advisable for owners who plan on chartering their aircraft out, Zipkin and Kliethermes say. Both reckon charter aircraft should retain the standard avionics fit for the aircraft as originally delivered.

    “To go through the general process that the FAA requires [for certifying an operator to operate Part 135 charters], a certain level of pilot training is required,” says Zipkin. “This needs to be available in simulators and in other aircraft of the same type” in the operator’s fleet.

    If it isn’t available, “it becomes much more difficult to train and qualify pilots. You don’t want to have an orphan avionics suite [in any given aircraft] — it is much less efficient to operate that way.”

    “A consistent OEM approach is the best,” Kliethermes adds. “Otherwise there will be training, obsolescence and certification issues. If multiple aircraft in the fleet are odd ducks, you will have limited crew available to fly them, or you’ll have to train the entire crew to fly two different airplanes.”

    That said, “Charter operators look for modern cockpit platforms that are well supported and reliable,” says Ann Pollard, an Aircraft Sales and Acquisitions Representative for Duncan Aviation. “Reliable equipment and a solid support network are key factors that enable charter operators to maximize efficiency and minimize downtime.”

    But while standardized avionics suites are important for charter aircraft, “Legacy avionics systems can be expensive to maintain,” Pollard argues. As a result, “Many operators elect to participate in avionics protection plans.

    “These programs are often transferrable to new owners, for a small fee. The two notable programs are the Corporate Aircraft Service Program (CASP) offered by Rockwell Collins, and MSP Avionics from Honeywell. Both programs are similar in how they work.”

    For an annual fee, any time that an avionics unit fails, the operator can order an exchange part from the manufacturer and it is shipped via overnight delivery at no additional cost. All exchanges and freight charges are covered.

    “In today's age of avionics platforms of EFIS displays and integration of what used to be multiple units into one unit, in many cases the cost of one exchange part could be more than what one of these programs costs for an entire year,” Pollard adds. “The protection plans offer a way for operators to streamline their budgets and avoid expensive surprises.”

    Next Time…

    Aside from the cockpit, there is an array of considerations for aircraft owners to make about the electronics in the cabin. Cabin connectivity is a non-negotiable to charter users, and – along with a variety of other cabin electronics elements – is a crucial element of ensuring customer satisfaction. Chris Kjelgaard continues that discussion in Part 2…

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