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Business Jet Charter - the Best Company?

The announcements come flying at us daily- from carefully-worded press releases like this: “…the leading large cabin and super midsize aircraft management and charter company in the US- has announced the addition of [make/model] aircraft to its charter management fleet.”

Gil Wolin   |   1st September 2013
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Gil Wolin Gil Wolin

Gil Wolin draws upon almost 40 years’ aviation management experience as an industry consultant....
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The leading large cabin and super midsize aircraft management and charter company? Says who? Well- says the press release- of course- as well as the website – in glowing and glorious terms.

Now- there’s no law against a bit of bombast – that’s something we’ve never been short of in promoting business jets- going back 50 years to Bill Lear and the industry’s origins. And- as it happens- this particular company has earned both Argus Platinum and Wyvern Wingman ratings- so it does have some basis for the grandiloquence.

But with 2,110 turbine charter operators in the US alone- according to Argus’ latest data- how is this operator different from the one whose website claims- “By providing the highest level of service at competitive rates- [company] continues to take the industry to new heights”?

Or from this one: “[Company] has built an industry-leading private jet charter team with a singular goal in mind; to deliver excellence in every phase of your travel experience”?

Let’s not omit the one that provides “unmatched levels of service to aircraft owners and charter customers-” and “exceeds even the highest expectations and ensures that each trip is executed flawlessly.”

But how can the above possibly compete with “the leader in domestic and international private jet travel-” let alone one who is at “the forefront of private aviation- providing travellers with both world-class service and powerful value-” and provides “the highest level of professionalism” with “innovative solutions” for each flight?

While the claims above are all almost identical- it takes a bit more digging to determine which are from FAR Part 135 jet charter operators- and which are made by charter brokers- with no certificate and no aircraft fleet. As it happens- the first four are operators- the last two are brokers. But unless you’re well-versed in the language of business jet charter- the only term standard throughout the industry is “operator-” as only US charter companies possessing a current Part 135 certificate can claim to be- or advertise as a charter operator.

And while good jet dealers (there are many) have a vested interest in customer safety and satisfaction- countless others couldn’t care less. Why should they? There is no government license or training required; no financial bond posted or security needed; no ethical standard to uphold. The only transportation regulation that applies to a broker is that it cannot “hold out” as an operator – hence the carefully-worded website copy that implies the necessary aviation operational expertise.

Quite simply- where once an exact knowledge of aircraft- operators- airports- regulations and numerous ancillary service providers were required to sell charter- today only a laptop with Internet access- a slick website- and a cell-phone are needed to establish one’s credentials as a broker. Argus numbers indicate that 90% of those 2-110 turbine aircraft charter operators have far fewer than 10 aircraft on certificate.

Mostly regional in nature- they haven’t the sales personnel or budget to reach beyond their local area. So they depend on brokers located around the world to sell on their behalf- to clients who happen to be in the operator’s area on business or for pleasure- or to fill an empty leg with revenue on a deadhead flight home. In fact- most charter operators rely on brokers for a significant part of their charter activity.

That often puts the “bedroom brokers” in competition with the operators on whom the brokers depend for charter aircraft to fly their own clients: an excellent example of “co-ompetition”- as are the relationships among operators themselves - for as often as not- operators function as brokers. Once operator sales and marketing efforts trigger a call for charter- the operator is loath to say “Sorry- we don’t have an aircraft available.” So they subcontract the trip to another operator whom they trust to not try to lure away the client.

Absent any forthcoming government oversight- leaders within the broker community have begun their own initiatives to bring some semblance of self-regulation to the industry. Within the US- the Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA) is one such effort- with limited success. More recently- London-based Baltic Air Charter Association (BACA)- whose predecessor organization dates back to 1949- has expressed interest in establishing and implementing broker standards for its members similar to those required by IATA of commercial Airline travel agents.

It’s up to both industry segments – operator and broker – to develop and implement a program to ensure the safety and economic well-being of all concerned: aircraft owners- charter customers- operators and legitimate brokers. Now that’s “industry leadership” that’s worth trumpeting on a website!


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