- 08 Mar 2023
- Gerrard Cowan
- Aircraft Ownership
When even your best laid plans fail and your own aircraft is unavailable for unforeseen reasons, you may need to dip into the charter market for supplemental lift. Andre Fodor shares tips on how to be a priority caller to your Charter Broker…Back to Articles
Approximately a decade ago, I was flying as a demonstration pilot for a major aircraft OEM. The job involved worldwide travel to showcase and demonstrate the OEM’s in-production jets. I was often asked about the dispatch reliability of the airplanes we sold.
This always seemed like a loaded question, and before I would answer a few caveats needed establishing. These included the many instances when an airplane would be unavailable, including inspections, scheduled maintenance, airworthiness directives and even crew training or vacation. The reality is these caveats would be true for any aircraft.
Transitioning into Flight Department Management, my job involved doing everything possible to achieve and maintain the highest possible dispatch reliability. We try to achieve this through preventive maintenance, taking remedial actions whenever required, and making sure inspections and maintenance occur before or after major flight commitments.
Inevitably, though, however thorough you are, Murphy’s Law will strike. That means the Flight Department without a solid Plan B in place will end up failing in its commitment to fly when the aircraft is needed. That’s where having supplemental lift options can really pay…
To be successful a Flight Department Manager must be prepared in advance, understanding the intricacies of the supplemental lift market. Let’s explore in more detail…
The first rule of readiness is not to wait until you need a charter to start looking for where to find one. Today’s high demand market availability of charter aircraft is at a premium, both in terms of cost and shortage of available aircraft. That means if you need service today, making that first call is likely to be a frustrating experience.
Most charter brokers are busy, receiving multiple fruitless phone calls requesting charter cost inquiries that don’t lead to a sale. If you’re hoping to get your call answered quickly, you will need to already be in a broker’s smartphone phone contact list. Unless a broker already knows of you and understands that you’re a serious caller, your request for a charter quote could begin at the bottom of the pile with other bonafide customers taking precedent.
There are some ‘playbook rules’ about charter brokers that you must be prepared to follow. If you’re not well known to the broker and haven’t yet established a history of successful and timely payment, you’ll be required to pay up-front. If, for example, you are looking for a last-minute flight because your aircraft is AOG, your only choice could be to use a credit card to pre-pay for the charter and the card usage surcharge.
Before this happens, you’ll need to make sure your credit line is large enough to cover the cost. Time permitting, you may be able to send a wire transfer. But again you should know the exact process within your company to make this a fast process.
Once you’ve developed a relationship with the broker, they will trust you enough to extend credit and invoice you after the flight.
Resist the temptation to call several charter brokers for the same service. Give one person the chance to bring you the best deal. If you multi-source brokers you will end up paying a higher cost, especially if the search is going off-fleet and hitting the market from several directions. This only serves to create false demand for the leg you require, inflating the cost.
Moreover, by using a single charter broker, you establish a relationship that will eventually yield loyalty, preferred service, better discounts and preferential payment terms.
Understanding the source of your charter service is of the utmost importance. Many true stories exist of inexperienced people booking illegal charters. Charter operators are required to have air carrier certificates and must comply with rigid operational specifications that assert the safe transportation of people.
Legal charter companies will have sizable insurance liability coverage and industry ratings that will at least give you assurance that they meet minimum quality standards. Remember, when you charter you have operational control and could be liable both from a regulatory and taxation perspective if you hire an illegal charter operator.
My Flight Department has selected a few charter companies that we prefer to use. We still always book through our preferred charter broker, though. We have taken the time to visit their operations, meet the Chief Pilots, Directors of Operations and, whenever possible, the other pilots.
This is because we have sought every assurance possible that our passengers will have a safe, positive experience when they are unable to utilize their own private jet.
In addition to maintaining a close relationship with our preferred charter broker, we recently entered into a dry lease arrangement on a second aircraft. This came about after we found another operator who was underutilizing their airplane but still wanted to own it.
Federal regulations mandate us to have full operational control when we use their aircraft, independently sourcing our crew and dispatch services.
A dry lease is a little more complex and time-consuming than charter, but we decided to try it and see how it works out. Dry leases are sophisticated transactions, and having the right legal, tax and accounting advice is crucial to ensuring it is legal.
Some Flight Department Managers are very wary of hiring outside lift to fill voids in their flight schedules. They are fearful that supplemental lift could threaten their jobs. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
When someone understands, and can afford, the advantages of full business jet ownership, they rarely migrate to charter or fractional. Your job is safe. Meanwhile, you will have demonstrated what an excellent steward of their Flight Department you are!